It’s a cleaning environment unlike anywhere else in the world. One building alone covers 98 acres, large enough to hold Disneyland. Three hundred seventy-nine other buildings add on for a total of nearly 17 million cleanable square feet. Included in that mix are 1,700 restrooms, almost 15,000 offices and conference rooms, and scores of manufacturing areas, clean rooms, data centers and highly secured areas.

These are the stats that describe the awesome cleaning task present at Boeing’s Puget Sound, Wash., campuses. But the company’s sheer size is just the tip of the iceberg. In 2000, the world’s leading manufacturer of commercial airliners chose to completely overhaul its entire cleaning operations at these facilities, encompassing more than 500 employees. And if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, part-way through the department’s change-over, it was hit with a 40 percent staff reduction and a 90 percent turnover of remaining staff — all due to a drop in business and subsequent layoffs, following terrorist attacks in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.

This company’s story, of how it has successfully improved cleaning operations despite the many odds not in their favor illustrates how a determined staff of dedicated managers and employees can move forward, even in the toughest of times, if they stick to their guns.

Choosing a new route
Until 2000, all four campuses in Puget Sound were cleaning independently. But Boeing executives began looking for a way to improve efficiencies and standardize tools and processes. They also wanted to track costs and benchmark performance. Marsha Surprenant, a former contract cleaner and a 15-year veteran manager at Boeing, set out to find a system that could deliver those requirements.

Surprenant is quick to point out Boeing’s problems were not uncommon to the cleaning industry. “We were trying to do the best we could but we had been doing a lot of things because that’s the way we had always done them. What we ended up with was a variety of opinions that didn’t necessarily reflect how we should operate.”

The system Surprenant eventually found, was called OS1, a cleaning program designed by industry consultant John Walker, founder of Janitor University based in Salt Lake City. After meeting with industry experts to find out what systems they had in place, she saw a variety of benefits in the system. Within a week of attendance at Janitor University, she was sold on the program.

In addition to creating cleaning specialists, (OS1) focuses on ergonomics and going beyond compliance where worker safety is concerned. The program also allows managers to track costs for more accurate planning.

Once Surprenant got the go-ahead, she became the OS1 process owner at Boeing. Then she selected Brian Hussey and Michael Martin as OS1 implementation managers and Lorraine Bartlemay became the OS1 training and communication manager. An administrative assistant and two more trainers rounded out the OS1 process team.

The transition would require Boeing cleaning workers and their managers to change every cleaning tool, chemical and process, which the team admitted was a monumental task. More than 500 janitors and their managers would need to be trained. The first step was to send the process team members to Janitor University to learn the system as Surprenant had.

“After a week of J.U. I remember going through the mental shift from ‘I don’t know about this’ to ‘This is a lot of good information,’” says Martin. “We had set up our old processes based on a lot of information that wasn’t completely accurate.”

Rolling out the process
Once the process team created a schedule of how they planned to implement the new system, several first line managers and key employees were selected to attend Janitor University to make sure they understood the new process.

Bartlemay also visited each custodial team with an overview presentation. to help customers, cleaning workers and managers understand the new system.

Then, employees and managers were put through a two-day ‘boot camp.” There, they learned each of the four cleaning specialty areas related to team cleaning, an integral part of the OS1 process. Each participant also was required to have hands-on experience with the new tools and chemicals.

By April of 2001 the OS1 team was ready to tackle a trial site.

The intention was to evaluate OS1 in action and get a taste of what it would take to implement the program area-wide. A team of five cleaning workers was selected from a list of volunteers. “We knew we would get a straight answer from them. If the program was a dog we wanted to know,” says Hussey. Working with the cleaning manager for the building, Hussey and Martin assisted the team for approximately six weeks while Bartlemay provided the training.

As part of the transition, Martin and Hussey had to create job cards for each worker at each site. These cards explain where they should be, when, which tasks they should perform, and how long. it should take to complete each task.

Testing their mettle
By September 2001, the implementation team was on track with its second phase of change-overs. Then came the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and everything changed. The commercial airline business dropped off dramatically after the attacks and business at Boeing took a huge hit. The company laid off thousands of workers and Puget Sound’s janitorial staff of 500 was cut to 302. Staffing was further complicated by a contractual “bump” policy. According to union rules, workers facing layoffs in other areas of Boeing could “bump” into janitor’s jobs if they had more seniority and rights back to that job family. The result was 90 percent turnover.

But Surprenant’s team chose to step up to the challenge of continuing the implementation. Part of the reason to forge ahead was that the team believed the changes they had started could address many new concerns the company now faced — especially related to budget and safety. “We could save money in chemicals and consumables, and every dollar we could save could help save a person’s job,” says Martin.

Managers had to revise their schedule to still complete the rest of the transition in the remaining 18 months allotted.

For the first three months of the team’s renewed effort, it repeated the initial training for the almost entirely new staff. Another demand the team had to work around was a reduction in cleaning frequency due to the reduced staff. That meant all new job cards and work scheduling.

“That was a hard thing to do when you’re in the midst of trying to create something that is so much better than what we had before,” says Surprenant.

Although it was discouraging to reduce frequencies after their initial successes, Surprenant says the new program remained the department’s saving grace. Typically a reduction in staff means customers get less service, but implementing OS1 gave the department the ability to still improve upon the old ways of cleaning even with less people.

Progress report
Walker estimates that any organization that implements OS1 should see between a 10 percent and 20 percent cost reduction. While it is too early in the overhaul to gauge total cost savings, Boeing believes it will reach Walker’s numbers. Managers already have seen numerous changes.

A switch to more ergonomic tools lightened every worker’s physical load and they now are not rushed to complete their tasks each shift, says Surprenant.

“With the new tools we have minimized lifting, bending, pushing, pulling and stooping. The employee is able to do a larger area with a lot less physical effort,” adds Bartlemay.

Two-pound flat mops replaced 10-pound Kentucky mops, leading to less fatigue and reduced risk of workplace injuries. The chemicals also are safer, with safety ratings on each of the three primary chemicals used being a one, compared the old products that were at two and three.

A variety of logs that were created also help Boeing managers track chemical and filter usage and gauge costs in greater detail. The logs also help track cleaning quality. Too few chemical packages returned and the manager knows immediately that an employee is not changing solutions often enough. A “let’s go see” visual inspection indicates if more training is necessary.

Martin cites vacuuming as another area of improved efficiency. “An average upright with 14-inch width can clean about 2,500 square feet an hour. With a backpack you can vacuum 10,000 square feet an hour and with 50 percent less human energy to operate it.”

He also notes that Boeing used to spend about $40,000 in eight months on sponges alone for the four Puget Sound campuses. Now the company uses cloths instead – saving thousands of dollars in the process.

Standardization also has played a significant role in cost cutting. Bartlemay says Boeing went from using hundreds of different chemicals in the Puget Sound facilities to just a handful. “We used to get chemicals in gallon jugs,” she says. “We were paying for the storage of a gallon jug compared to a small package of chemical. Plus we had disposal costs.”

Surprenant says the savings realized by implementing (OS1) will definitely outweigh the initial investment. The company also expects to see a return on investment in the first year, which is extremely rare at Boeing, says Bartlemay.

One might question how occupants have responded to the many changes in cleaning at the Boeing facilities.

“Even though we’ve had an enormous drop in the number of cleaning workers and the high rate of turnover, our level of customer satisfaction has been relatively the same,” Bartlemay says. The team used a series of customer surveys to gauge customer reactions.

And customer satisfaction only leads to fuel the OS1 process team’s drive. The group plans to have the Puget Sound implementation finished by April of 2003. And they already have their sights set on their next challenge — expanding OS1 to the entire Boeing enterprise.

Jennifer Jones is based in Salt Lake City.