Establishing an RFP for outsourcing cleanroom cleaning


There comes a time when each department is asked to consider outsourcing some segment of its operations; typically, the operation in question is a manufacturing process or facility service that could be performed more efficiently by outside suppliers.

Aseptic gowns and cleanroom qualification are two that immediately come to mind; and as time goes on, and outsourcing evolves into a successful relationship with a provider, more requests are made to continue budget reviews and other areas are put up for consideration.

One operation that is being outsourced more readily these days is cleanroom cleaning. But before estimates are gathered, it's imperative that cleanroom owners take a step back, evaluate your specific needs and take the following steps on the way to a decision that's right for your particluar cleanroom, schedule and budget.

Know thyself first

Cleanroom cleaning should be considered as important a discipline as cleanroom assembly—possibly more so. It's the cleaning process that ends and begins every cleanroom.

With all the technology, sophistication and knowledge available, cleanrooms are not measured for cleanliness, but by how many particles per certain area actually exist. Taking cleaning down another level, it's more important to manage viable and non-viable particles.

Viable particulates won't be distinguished for several days, usually after the operations commence, so it's critical to know what's required within the operation now as well as before outsourcing is considered. Once you've written down your cleanroom systems and requirements, ask what objectives need to be accomplished when outsourcing:

  • What is the square footage of the controlled area?
  • What are the classifications and maintenance requirements?
  • What type of orientation and qualification programs are required and monitored for staff personnel to enter and work in these areas?

By simply checking off the points indicated in the sidebar to this article (“Checking it twice”), you can create a checklist review for most considerations to be reviewed and answered. Ask any operator/technician working in these areas and they will tell you what is expected. Ask any manager involved in running the operation and that person should be able to respond, in depth, addressing budget, corrective action and process improvement programs.

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One key to a successful evaluation is having all of these issues written and answered, not just conceptualized. It's important to decide and include all costs, such as supplies, equipment and all labor, in an effort to obtain a fair comparison to switching to an outside service supplier.

What do you want to accomplish? Answer the following questions to get to the bottom of your reasoning:

  • Is this a financial decision?
  • Is the company wishing to gain expertise in the area of cleanroom cleaning?

Your company may feel that, by outsourcing cleanroom cleaning, it can better concentrate on its core competency. Regardless of the reason, it's important for your company to keep its focus when comparing incoming proposals.

Time for the request for proposal (RFP)

The RFP is designed to ask suppliers for a proposal that fits your exact need. Remember, it's the cleanroom owner's obligation to the supplier to give a general overview of the current program, as well as the specifics of areas that will be serviced; in turn, the supplier will be able to present qualified information back to the owner.

An effective proposal is presented in two sections. The first should cover the suppliers service programs; list all the requirements, and determine weighted values for scoring. The second should review pricing information. Most decisions are cost-driven, as in the bottom line; however, look for value, not cost.

Therein lies the reasoning for splitting the proposal into two criteria; don't even consider the costs until you have chosen the two or three best values available. After the values have been established, you can compare what in-house costs would be versus outside costs while considering your objectives for contracting an outside service provider.

Under the first section of the RFP (service programs), list sections that will need to be explained; such as the supplier's management structure, site manager qualifications, safety data and training programs. The supplier should be asked for information on specific cleaning programs, such as ISO Class 5 and ISO Class 8 support rooms, and how they clean—especialty flooring and machinery.

Productivity standards and cleaning materials should also be noted in your RFP, since these will be part of the overall cost. You can determine right away if a supplier knows what it's doing based on how it proposes to clean, compatibility of methods, and cleaning materials used.

This section should also include a reference listing of current and past clients. It would be good to know how well a vendor maintains relationships with previous customers. Ask for a summary section that details labor and supervisory support to determine estimated productivity standards and ratio of non-working supervisors to technicians.

Send out the RFP with timelines

Chances are high that there are numerous custodial services in the area, so the key is to narrow the field. Try calling several companies or go with recommendations from professional associates. How many is enough? Consider how much time you have to review their proposals. Five or six should complete the first pass list.

You may miss one or two qualified suppliers, but the professional ones will know your company is in the bidding process. Make sure to have specified in the RFP the timelines of each event, including closing dates of receipt of proposals, interview of finalists, award date and initiation of contract dates.

Evaluation of proposals

Once the submission date has arrived, be ready to pare down the list to three finalists. Check for complete information as requested as well as thoroughness, typos and overall communication skills. If a proposal is inadequate, what service level can you expect when the real work begins?

Pricing information should be reviewed, but not necessarily used to eliminate contenders. Instead, pricing should be used in the scoring process/weighted value to determine whether a proposal is feasible and within budget. Review the pricing information and crosscheck the proposals to be sure that the math is correct on staffing, equipment, pricing and labor hours. If you have never used a weighted value process, contact Michael Hoots ([email protected]), associate professor and program coordinator, Facilities Management & Technology Studies Program, Colorado State University-Pueblo. Professor Hoots will e-mail information for setting up a scorecard evaluation.

References and decision-making

This is also a good time to check references for your three finalists before you narrow the field, in case one of them may need to be replaced. If your homework is done properly and thoroughly, this step can save you future grief.

Have a list of prepared questions ready to interview the references. Keep in mind that since the references were given by the supplier, you should expect good reviews; this is time to read between the lines and use open-ended questions.

You'll need to assemble an internal review team that can decide on the finalists and the ultimate winner. There are several qualifications required of the team collectively and individually. Collectively, members should have a range of minimal to expert knowledge and experience with cleaning and contracting, and have the time available to review, meet and make recommendations.

Each member should be able to commit to 40 to 80 hours over a two-month course. Remember, you're operating under a timeline; you want to hire a professional service; you need to perform as one in a timely manner.

Individually, members don't necessarily need to be experienced so long as one or two members are. In fact, the team may want someone completely inexperienced to ask the simple questions that others on the team may take for granted, or are too embarrassed to ask. This inexperienced person could be the objective voice that determines whether the finalists have the same management chemistry as your company.

After references have been checked, narrow the selection to two or three finalists and arrange interviews. Ideally, arrange the interviews at the contractor's site; and while the team is there, speak with the office and support staff. Look over the supplier's warehouse, training facility and building in general. The team will see and hear quite a bit about the company before the interview.

Compile all the proposals, interviews and team notes. Meet as a team to finalize an agreement or discuss concerns. Remember that typically, the contract will be at least for one year and possibly more. It's a very expensive process to select and hire your choice, and it's almost double that cost to have to re-do the work if not done properly.

Awarding the contract

Once the decision has been made, it is time to award the contract. Your team may have decided on a one-year or multiple year award, with or without options for renewal.

Options give you the ability to review/continue with the new vendor or opt out after a given period of time. If you're satisfied, you won't have to go through this rigorous process again for several years.

Implement the contract

At the implementation stage, you may be turning over the project management to the Operations or Facilities departments; but the overall success will depend on the performance on both sides over an entire year.

Make sure all processes have been determined, documented and, most importantly, supported by all involved. The three basics steps are orientation, turnover of operations and performance review.

Orientation. New staff (technicians, supervisors, management) includes internal and external employees. Make sure all introductions have been made, in person, and a contact list is given to everyone involved in the project.

This list should provide the primary and back-up personnel for routine and emergency situations. The best assurance and validation of your selection will come in emergency situations. The best way to prepare for emergencies is to have a documented program for both groups—internal and external. Keep in mind people take vacations and other leave time—but systems do not. Have qualified back-ups that know the systems in place.

Turnover from current staff to contractor. Make sure all internal staff is in support of turning over the keys and responsibilities to an outside service. This will not guarantee success, but will support it.

Orientation is the time to ask questions, such as, “who does what and when?” Play out scenarios, review inspection logs and documentation requirements one more time. It's difficult and expensive making and receiving phone calls at 7 a.m. when a team member is looking to correct incomplete documentation that's keeping a production line from starting.

Check in daily the first week and weekly the first month to work out any bugs or misunderstandings. Correcting simple issues early on is a grand investment in future success.

Performance review

Assure that mutually understood inspections, expectations and reviews are in place. The team is responsible for the operation and success of this project; you write the rules, roles and responsibilities and there should be no surprises at this point.

Daily logs and records should be measured in terms of completeness, and room inspection reports should be a part of this review. A weekly tally should be forwarded to the person in charge along with the cleaning supplier, and then reviewed.

After a month or so, reduce this review to monthly and then quarterly. Many companies make the mistake of completely turning over the responsibility to the vendor. While competent, outside service providers need to know your expectations on a regular basis to support your objectives. This includes budget reviews, overall performance as well as anticipated changes to the program.

If you have a desire to contract an outside cleaning service, now you know how much work is involved. But when all is said and done, the selection process is the easy part. The management/partnership, as in all relationships, is the hard part.

GREG JONES has been involved in pharmaceutical and medical device operations, including several start-ups, for 25 years. He works for Porter Industries Inc., based in Ft. Collins, Colo., and can be reached at: [email protected]


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