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Custodial teams start reengineering pilot program

Unseen by much of the Institute, "reengineering in action" is earning high marks in Physical Plant, where a pilot program being tested by two teams of custodians has improved work for participants and services for their customers.

Under the present system, all custodians punch in at a central location, receive assignments, pick up keys, supplies and chemicals, and walk or are shuttled to sites around campus. Each individual is assigned to a particular area.

The centerpiece of the new design is a team approach to custodial work. In the pilot program being tested now, a team coordinator prepares for the shift, arriving earlier than other team members. The coordinator picks up keys, assignments, and signs in individuals as the team assembles in a "huddle room" near the areas to be cleaned.

Supplies are delivered to the site and the team decides how to divide responsibility for the work to be done. The team coordinator is a rotating position, filled by a different team member each week. Each team is headed by a supervisor or "coach,"whose role is support rather than direct supervision.

The design was devised by the Custodial Services Reengineering Team composed of custodian Walter Bernis, shift supervisor George Carney, waxer Sharon Clute and custodian Helen Lowthers. The team captain was Karen Nilsson, associate director of operations at the Campus Activities Complex. They worked full-time for two months, examining existing practices, looking at how other institutions handle cleaning services and drafting a plan for redesign.

The team presented its redesign to the Reengineering Steering Committee on December 20. It was approved for testing-without amendment-within 24 hours, becoming the first redesign to become a pilot program in the Institute-wide reeningeering effort.

  • Major benefits of the redesign are:
  • Improved quality of work life
  • More individual responsibility with less supervision
  • Less time spent on non-work-related processes
  • ������������������Better communication between customers and teams
  • Overall improvement in customer service
  • ������������������More weekend service

One pilot team works evenings (4pm-midnight) in sections of Buildings 9, 13, 17, 31, 31A and 37. Its members are: Walter Bernis, Monica Brown, Maria Carreiro, Cynthia Clarke, Paulette Cornwall, Maria Correia, George Diliuzio, Maria Durarte and Harvey Stuart. The coach is George Gillis and Rui Borges is the back-up coach.

The other team works nights (11pm-7am) in areas of Buildings E15, E32, E33 and E34. That team includes: Nora Davis, Raul DeMelo, Giacomo Falcone, Louis Goldberg, Victor Kelly, Emily Scoppettulo, Anthony Sulfaro and Michael Teahan. Its coach is George Carney.

In emergencies, members of other teams help out, as do coaches. The teams also communicate with customers through informal meetings and written messages because most custodial work is done at night.

After six weeks, Karen Nilsson, who is monitoring the pilot, reports that both teams are performing well. "They are meeting the challenges that come with operating under the new design, and overcoming them," she said.

"We worried about what would happen if a team member was out sick or on vacation. As it happened, several members of the teams did have some vacation time, and each team was able to modify their workload and schedule to handle the vacancy without reductions in quality. Absenteeism has not been a problem, either."

Customers were notified that their buildings would be part of the pilot. "So far, we have received no complaints, and we have received a few compliments," Ms. Nilsson said.

The original design team itself disbanded after winning Steering Committee approval for its proposal. Each of its members has returned to Building Services, but with a new view of work:

"I learned so much I'm going to go back to school," said Sharon Clute, who now serves as the pilot teams' supplier. She has now enrolled in a part-time program. George Carney, who had planned to retire this year, has decided to stay to help train supervisors as coaches. He is involved in rezoning the campus for teams. Helen Lowthers has a role as a redesign advocate, helping to educate other Physical Plant employees on the concept of teamwork. Walter Bernis has filled a vacancy in one of the teams and is serving as a pilot team member. Ms. Nilsson will return soon to her position at the Campus Activities Complex.

This cross-functional design team was selected by Senior Vice President William R. Dickson and Victoria Sirianni, director of Physical Plant, who had already begun a strategic planning project for her department.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 15, 1995.

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