Case Study: University of Notre Dame Football Locker Room “Deep Clean”

Posted on January 9, 2012 | in 5S, Defects, Football, Lean Tools, Lean Wastes, Maintenance, Small Business, Sports, Time Savings, TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) | by

While this is slightly old news now that the college football season comes to a close tonight with the BCS Championship Game, the University of Notre Dame football team experienced an opportunity where using lean would certainly come in handy.

From…way back in November:

“Notre Dame is doing a deep clean of its meeting rooms and weight room after several players came down with bad cases of the flu. Captain Harrison Smith needed an IV on Friday night, and defensive end Stephon Tuitt missed Saturday’s game because he was so sick. ‘We’re on full alert because we’ve had so many guys affected by this at this point,’ (Coach Brian) Kelly said.”

The concept of “deep clean” can be found in lean and autonomous management. It implies bringing something (a machine, a kitchen, a locker room, anything) back to basic conditions. Basic conditions is essentially “as good as new” or “as close to new as possible” state. After days, weeks, and even years of being out of basic conditions (dirty, broken, temporary fixes like duct tape, etc), doing a deep clean means doing a full cleaning of everything and fixing/updating all anomalies (things that are broken or non-functional).

But that’s not the key takeaway here. A deep clean shouldn’t just be about bringing everything back to basic conditions – it should also be about keeping it there too!

When properly administering a deep clean, the managers (whomever would be tasked with keeping everything clean and up-to-date) should also be creating “standards” for what is clean vs. what is not, and a standard cleaning process so that everything is kept clean at all times (within reason).

In the past when I’ve managed deep cleans of equipment, we created cleaning standards that consisted of a “dirty” picture and a “clean” picture of key areas. Dirty is unacceptable and clean is our target. Whenever the cleaning process is completed, the key area should look just like the clean picture. Depending on what all is being cleaned/maintained, there might be many standards created.

The second item that should be created is a standard process for cleaning. To create this process, the following questions should be asked:

  • When/how often should this key area be cleaned?
  • What tools or cleaning supplies should be used for cleaning?
  • Who should be in charge of cleaning this?
  • Where will the requisite cleaning supplies be kept and how should they be stored?
  • How should this key area be cleaned – what is the actual process? (Spray cleaning solution on towel or directly on object?)

The idea is not that everyone should always be busy. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s important to maintain the basic conditions – really, who wants a nasty, smelly, dirty locker room? – but what can be done to have to clean less often or with less effort so that it gets easier to maintain the basic condition?

Autonomous management and basic condition is not just about keeping clean and up-to-date. It’s also about preventing breakdowns, such as what the University of Notre Dame football team suffered with ill players. Let’s do a reverse five-whys analysis to see the problem.

  • Because the locker room was not as clean as it should have been, it probably facilitated the flu germs.
  • Because the locker room facilitated the flu germs, some players got infected and were sick.
  • Because some players were sick, they had to sit out from the Boston College game.
  • Because players had to sit out from the Boston College game, the Irish almost lost.
  • Had the Irish lost, their season record would be worse and they would be invited to a lesser bowl game with lower payout. (Okay, I added this one only as a “could have happened” but it illustrates the financial impact this could have.)

It should be noted that the school realized the epidemic spreading through the locker room and took the initiative to rectify the problem. The University of Notre Dame certainly takes great pride in providing state-of-the-art facilities, and went above and beyond to make sure their student-athletes were no longer in harm’s way. What the school should take away from the experience is how to prevent this epidemic from occurring again if they can by applying a standardized process for maintaining the locker room/weight room.

Doing a deep clean can be hard, but performing it correctly and creating the proper process afterward means a) not having to redo the deep clean again later and wasting valuable time, and b) preventing major breakdowns and catastrophes.

(Locker room photo courtesy of

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3 Responses to “Case Study: University of Notre Dame Football Locker Room “Deep Clean””

  1. Blammm says:

    Anyone who has been involved in football knows its impossible to keep a 100+ space locker room clean when it is being used by a college football team. With two-a-days and morning lifts before afternoon practices, it would take round-the-clock treatments to keep it clean. When we had summer camp, the linemen’s pads were always on the industrial-sized sideline fans around the clock to dry them when not being worn and they were still soaked with sweat when the next practice started. Linemen would easily lose over 10 pounds in water weight alone on a hot summer’s day. Playing football is inherently unsanitary. It’s a fact of life.

    • Chad Walters says:

      Blamm, thanks for the comment.

      I agree with you that it’s impossible to keep a locker room clean 100% of the time, as to do so would require constant, dedicated cleaning. Keeping ANYTHING clean 100% of the time is next to impossible.

      The key idea behind autonomous management and “basic conditions” is to set a cleaning standard and identify the threshold of dirt/uncleanliness that is permitted before having to clean again. What interval of time is best for recleaning? Probably in a locker room that interval will be 24 hours or less for the entire space, and many things will have to be cleaned in significantly shorter intervals. It’s important to find the balance between maintaining a clean, safe, germ-free work space and going overboard with excessive cleaning (which is wasteful activity if it’s unnecessary).

      Yes, football is inherently unsanitary, especially with the example you provided with drenched shoulder pads from summer camp practices. I get that. That’s a problem to which solutions are currently limited. But what’s also a problem is the “breakdown” in the process where an illness epidemic took down some of the team’s players and kept them from being at optimal condition when the game rolled around. What would you rather have – providing a cleaning process that has some gaps and some players come down with illness as a result, or an improved and optimized cleaning process that prevents the training facilities from being the cause?

      So remember, it’s not about keeping the facilities 100% clean 100% of the time. It’s about keeping the facilities as clean as possible while wisely using resources available to keep things at basic conditions so breakdowns are not only prevented but eliminated. How specifically that’s performed would be up to the school and the athletic department.

      I hope that helps explain it a little better.

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