Formal total quality management methodologies are often enforced in the manufacturing industry. So unless your facilities department decides to take on manufacturing a product in its spare time, the principles don't apply to your team, right?
Wrong. Several facilities departments, including that of Iowa State University, have implemented these common manufacturing methodologies to improve the quality of their facilities teams, as well as to save time and money.
For example, Lean is a production practice that strives to increase efficiency, decrease waste, and use empirical methods to decide what matters. Similarly, Six Sigma doesn't just concentrate on doing the right things – it focuses on doing the right things correctly. It assumes that variation is the source of defects and aims to eliminate variations in processes to reach long-term precision.
"Six Sigma provides a methodology for solving nagging facilities problems," explains John Gross, P.E., Lean systems director of Virbac, and a Six Sigma Master Blackbelt. Following Six Sigma principles removes deviation and variability; treating the same problems the same way allows your facilities department to run smoothly and to respond quickly.
Communicating the Goal to Be World-Class
When Chris Ahoy began as the Associate Vice President of Facilities Planning and Management at Iowa State University (ISU) in March of 1997 (he retired in October 2010), the university's facilities department wasn't necessarily doing anything wrong – it had been doing things right for quite some time. Ahoy wanted to improve the quality and make the department's methods even more right. Thus began ISU's 12-year journey to becoming a world-class facilities organization.
Ahoy led the department in looking into different organizational tools – such as Lean, Six Sigma, and Balanced Scorecard. "We looked at a lot of tools that were available in the industry," he explains. "This was very new to my staff because most of us were day-to-day operations process people and thought that world-class was relegated to people like GE, AlliedSignal, and Motorola. I said 'no, you can easily bring that technology to our operation, too.'"
All of these methodologies are not exclusive – often using a combination will provide the most impact. "Six Sigma and Lean are complementary tool sets," explains Gross. "Lean eliminates waste in the operation while Six Sigma eliminates variation. Many people incorrectly assume that they must select one or the other when in fact they should be using both."
After communicating with each member of the department the plan to become a world-class organization, Ahoy began stressing the importance of just that: communication. "I found that a lot of people in Iowa were very shy of promoting best practices – so we needed to do marketing. We taught our people to do marketing, and everything that we found out was good, we wanted to tell everyone about. So we brought folks from campuses down to our office to let them know what we do, why we do, and how we do things. As we were doing that, folks from outside our entity and the state of Iowa found out what we're doing and wanted to come and see how we do things. We've had about 186 visitor groups in the past 13 years come and see how we do things."
Greater Communication = Greater Efficiency
Ahoy communicated to his employees that they would have job security, which had a positive impact on the work of his staff. "It's amazing how when people know that they have security, they do much more than what you ask for." In addition to job security, Ahoy eliminated fear among his staff and drove up productivity by utilizing one of the principles of W. Edwards Deming's philosophy – a total quality management approach with 14 points. The principle he implemented was to "drive out fear" from the organization, which opened up the lines of communication between supervisors and their employees. "That means nobody is afraid to make comments and ask things. If they see that an improvement needs to be done, they tell their supervisors nicely that it isn't working."
Taking a "bottom-up" approach to your organization by giving employees proper training and opening up the lines of communication can help improve your organization as a whole. "We wanted to create an effective organization of operational excellence, and it's the people that actually make the difference," explains Ahoy. "If you take care of your people, what I call building self-equity, it makes the organizational equity go much higher."
What Data Can Do
After communicating with members of his staff and stressing the importance of marketing best practices, the next step was processing. "We used Lean and Six Sigma to develop the processes," Ahoy says. In order to know how the processes were doing and to know that they were good, they needed to be benchmarked against other processes and people. "We went outside the industry to see how to benchmark with other people to get their information and adapt that. And once we did, we needed a depository where people could go and find out things. So we created a knowledge management group that collects data and does benchmarking. Every year we analyzed and brought the data up to speed."
"Any quality methodology that is rigorously used in evaluating and measuring facility work processes against desired outcomes should be able to ensure keeping the facility in good quality," explains John Englert, former president of Rochester, NY-based CMT Consulting, a business advisory and training services company. "This should also provide a way to measure costs compared to desired outcomes to make sure it makes economic sense. It also offers a way to benchmark other facilities that may be using similar methods, as this provides a common base for discussion and comparison."
In order to efficiently process the facilities data, the university implemented a web system in which faculty, staff, and students can fill out work orders and file complaints. A benefit to this system is that the information is archived and can be used to the department's benefit as needed.
"I got a complaint from one of the faculty members when I was asked to defend the budget," says Ahoy. "He said we were too expensive as it cost $526 to hang a painting. So I went down and found out that it wasn't one painting – we hung 26 paintings, we painted the wall, and we put trim around it. This is an example of some of the credibility that we brought back from Six Sigma. We collected data and we made sure that it was fact-based, data-driven, data-informed, and knowledge based."
Six Sigma tools can allow a "help desk" to do more than just forward maintenance requests – it can help with troubleshooting. "Use Six Sigma tools – a diagram to discover the types of issues in both frequency and cost and then possibly a cause and effect diagram to discover why these issues are occurring," explains Englert. "With this data, it may be possible to focus on the corrective actions and then more accurately measure improvements and ultimately verify a reduction of service calls. This should save money by reducing service calls and improve customer satisfaction."
Small Department with Big Accomplishments
Because of Lean, Six Sigma, and components of other quality methodologies that Ahoy and ISU implemented, the department is able to excel – performing remarkably well for the staff size and the size of the institution. "We compare ourselves with like institutions to see the size of staff there. Many of them have three times or four times as big a staff as we have and are not on the same level of operations," Ahoy explains. "Just to give you one simple example, let's say custodial services. The national average for custodial services is 28,000 square feet per person. We have 69,000 square feet per person. Does this mean that we are doing much better than everybody else? Yes – with the amount of money that we are given, we are doing a very good job. Should we do better than what we're doing right now? Yes – if we get more money, we could."
With the amount of money allocated, the department still maintains level three cleaning in the APPA level of cleanliness. "People who come to our operation are really amazed and shocked that with so very little money, we're able to do that."
Part of the staff's efficiency stems from the open lines of communication. When something, such as cleaning tools, isn't working properly, it gets communicated and fixed. "For instance, we found that a lot of sprains, strains, etc. were happening because the equipment was not performing according to what was needed," explains Ahoy. "So now custodial staffers have their own individual vacuum cleaners that they carry and that are adjusted to their ergonomics. So not only is the equipment kept better, but the staff is safe and healthy. Things like this are the improvements that allow the process people to understand what the Lean process is."
Knowledge on All Levels
In addition, creating a team environment has helped ISU's facilities department to operate efficiently, partially because team members are knowledgeable about all aspects of their teams. "Since we didn't have enough staff to run the operation, we created what we call a team environment. We have 16 groups to manage the work. When I first came, in custodial services there were people at the manager level and at the process level. The people at the process level didn't really know what the money in the budget was. Today the process people not only know what their budgets are, but they also hire their own people – they hire their own teammates."
The level of staff training also keeps the facilities department running smoothly. "We do a lot of training," says Ahoy. "We created an academy where staff people can go and get their training needs as necessary, whenever they want. The only thing that they will see is whether they get a pass grade. Nobody knows how many times they try at it. That has been very successful, I think." Staff members also attend outside training, where they learn how world-class their organization really is. "Once they go out into training seminars, they come back really excited because their training seems far superior to what is out there already."
The efficiency level of the staff members not only allows them to do their own jobs better, but also to do jobs that aren't normally relegated to the facilities department – such as classroom scheduling. "We're the only institution in the nation or in the world where we actually do classroom scheduling," says Ahoy. Because the facilities department, rather than the registrar, is in charge of scheduling, the department knows exactly what rooms are occupied at all times – allowing them to efficiently make fixes to the unoccupied rooms.
On Track to Be World-Class
Developing methodologies and processes influenced by Six Sigma, Lean, Deming's 14 Points, Baldrige Program, and other quality methodologies, Iowa State has won numerous awards for the operations of its facilities department and is well on its way to becoming a world-class facilities organization.
While ISU's exact methods and processes may not be ideal for your organization, researching your common problems and these methodologies can have an impact on the efficiency of your facilities team. "I favor a 'learn by doing' approach," says Gross. "Train the staff as you go about solving real problems. Follow a workshop approach for Lean activities and a project approach for Six Sigma activities." And remember – data collection is the cornerstone for total quality management.
Kylie Wroblaski is associate editor of BUILDINGS.