MITIE Streamlines cleaning contracts under Lean Six Sigma principles

3rd of December 2013
MITIE Streamlines cleaning contracts under Lean Six Sigma principles

MITIE, the FTSE 250 strategic outsourcing company based in the UK,  is celebrating the first graduations at Green Belt level from its Lean Academy.

The Lean Academy, set up and run by MITIE’s Environmental+ cleaning business, offers training in the principles of Lean Six Sigma, which has its origins in the automotive manufacturing sector and is today used by service industries worldwide. MITIE has now adapted the concept to its cleaning operations.

ECJ spoke to Jon Lightowler, MITIE’s business improvement director, who leads the Lean Six Sigma programme. He explained there are five principles of Lean Six Sigma:

• Identify customers and specify value

• Identify and map the value stream

• Create flow by eliminating waste

• Respond to customer pull

• Pursue perfection

Conveyor belt

The well-documented benefits include cost reduction, shorter cycle times, improved customer service, greater employee productivity and increased profit margins.

“This process in effect puts our cleaning operatives on a ‘conveyor belt’,” continues Lightowler, “ie, a linear route. While making their way along that route they carry out as many cleaning tasks as possible. Our bespoke IT software, LeanIT, is used to identify critical tasks and that data - along with the requirements of the customer - is then used by our trained experts to create the optimum workflow.  We are engineering the best method and process.”

Under this way of working MITIE seeks to establish cleaning teams because, as Lightowler points out: “People work better as teams. In that way we ensure fair and balanced workloads.”

He explains how the cleaning team works. “If there is a great deal of vacuuming in a building for example, we create a vacuuming team. Like air crew on an aeroplane, cleaners start at each end and work towards each other – in order to ‘regroup’.”

Training vital

Those responsible for training the cleaning team must ensure they know their route, and that they can locate their equipment easily. This is where the academy plays such a vital role. It works according to the ‘belt’ training system (similar to karate) as implemented in many other industries and has won external accreditation from the National College Open Network (NCON).  It’s open to all staff and teaches three levels – Foundation, Yellow Belt and finally Green Belt.

Lightowler explains that at the Foundation level cleaning operatives, supervisors, managers and directors have been attending courses, which take place at the client site. Participants then get a login in order to go online and move on to Yellow Belt, which is an e-learning module. “People can carry out this level of training at their own pace.”

Green Belt is designed for dedicated project managers and regional managers. It is e-learning based, and there is also the requirement to do a site-based project. Four employees have just become the first to achieve the Green Belt status - Iain Lomas-Walker, James Small, John Schneidau and Duncan Shadbolt.

Benefits on contracts

The academy has been up and running for 12 months and is an integral part of the Lean Six Sigma method of working. “We can already see the benefit on contracts because supervisors understand the process so much better. They feel empowered to see the possibility to change
the way things are done,” explains Lightowler.

“And clients have taken great interest in Lean Six Sigma because we are removing wasteful activities from their site. It is also important to them they have all relevant data, and that the process is being constantly monitored.”

The most challenging aspect of implementing Lean Six Sigma methods? Lightowler quotes Rosabeth Moss Kanter, professor of business at Harvard Business School who said: “Mindless habitual behaviour is the enemy of innovation.”

“Designing innovation is the easy part – it is always a challenge to lead people to do things differently, but it is worth the effort,” he concludes.


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