Corporate photos by Vito Palmisano
Production photos by Marta Garcia

With 5S, Six Sigma, O.E.E., VSM, HSLM and a host of other programs and terms, one would think that team members at Sara Lee’s Claryville plant in Alexandria, Ky., have to carry decoder rings with them at all times.
But each of these acronyms represents an ideology or practice with a purpose: to make Claryville a highly efficient, productive, safe, cost-effective and environmentally sound facility.
For the record, there is no need for decoder rings at the Claryville plant, as team members are well-schooled in these ideologies and practices from Day One on the job. Improvements in customer satisfaction for fiscal year 2007 prove these techniques are working. According to plant numbers, Food Service customer satisfaction is up 37 percent, Cocktails up 8 percent, Hot Dogs up 53 percent and Deli is up 17 percent. Along with improved customer satisfaction, the plant attempts to improve efficiency and production.
Whether speaking with customers or consumers, Claryville’s mission remains the same: “To simply delight you … every day.”
The approximately 550 team members at the 325,000-square-foot facility manufacture Hillshire Farm, Hillshire Farm Ultra Thin, Ball Park and Kahn’s products for both retail (the majority of production) and foodservice. According to the company, more cocktail sausages are produced at the Claryville plant than anywhere else in the world.
What brings all this together? A Lean Six Sigma culture that drives all team members to innovate, execute and improve on a daily basis. In fact, the day before The National Provisioner visited the plant in early June, the Sliced Meats Value Stream improved production volume by 8 percent to set a new one-day record in that area.
Other programs, such as 5S (Sort, Straighten, Sanitize, Standardize and Sustain), Overall Equipment Effectiveness (O.E.E.), Value Stream Mapping (VSM) and Human Systems for Lean Manufacturing (HSLM) drive home the culture that everything at the plant can be measured and improved upon using the statistics derived from such measurements. Claryville team members live Lean Six Sigma each day they walk through the doors. Yet, that doesn’t mean the culture doesn’t allow for fun — take, for instance, the annual tradition in which a few creative team members take a popular song, rewrite it to apply to the plant and its culture, and even perform it live at company-wide events. Three years ago, Gary Hensley, quality assurance manager, and Dave Stephenson, utilities/maintenance, rewrote the Brooks & Dunn country hit, “Boot Scootin’ Boogie.” The new name: “Claryville Boogie.” The song is used to explain the Lean Six Sigma culture at Claryville, explains Hensley, a Six Sigma Black Belt whose brother plays in another famous country band — Kenny Chesney’s band.
“‘We have our specs so we can make it right. We poka-yoke’ — which is mistake-proofing — ‘our process well into the night.’ As you do these things to create the culture, you encourage team members to buy into the culture we want here at Claryville.”
Claryville management promotes that culture in action through its Human Systems for Lean Manufacturing (HSLM) as well. Through this program, even human-capital issues can be measured, assessed and addressed through Lean Six Sigma style strategies.
Problem-solving work spurred by this strategy resulted in the creation of a separate room for the plant’s Performance Boards. Previously, the boards had been located in the plant’s lunchroom. But employees weren’t happy with the fact that their lunch and break times were being interrupted by work teams coming in and having meetings around the Performance Boards. Also, those in the meetings often had trouble hearing during the meetings because of ambient lunchroom noise and conversations.
Claryville leadership discovered these issues through a survey given by one of three teams tasked to find out how the plant could build trust amongst its team member base. As soon as the leadership team found out about these concerns, they had the Board Room created — so now team members have a separate, quiet area for Performance Board meetings and the like.
The Performance Boards themselves are a vital way leaders communicate with team members on the floor. They are an integral part of Claryville’s lean manufacturing, visual management program.
“Each value stream — hot dogs, sliced meats and cocktails — has its own board,” says Petra Sterwerf, Claryville general manager. “Value stream managers meet with their supervisors, and then the supervisors meet with their team members, and they go over key measurements on the boards.”
The boards track measurements and relay data to team members in five categories. A color-coded, cross-shaped calendar represents daily safety results. Quality-control charting appears in the Quality sector. O.E.E. information, including such data on how often particular lines run and length of the run, appears in the Productivity section. Different cost attributes are tracked and relayed to employees in the Cost area, and the Environment sector tracks environmental measures such as chlorides, inedible wastes and solid wastes in the plant.
It may seem like a puzzle of numbers and charts, but every measurement leads to analysis, explains Bob Battle, maintenance.
“With the boards, looking at these measures, it will determine where they need problem-solving activities,” he says. “At the bottom of each board, you’ll see various problem-solving activities that had taken place to actually improve the measures and performance in that value stream.”
Information from each Value Stream Board rolls onto the overall plant board, which feeds forward to goals sent from the executive team in Chicago. The Value Stream Boards, for their part, are fed by smaller performance boards located on the actual plant floor. It’s a chain of information that keeps all activities aligned and allows for free communication throughout the organization, Sterwerf says.
“That’s how we handle policy deployment to make sure those measures and problem solving solutions are communicated throughout the plant,” she says.
Bill Davis, director of manufacturing and co-champion of Performance Management, agrees that communication is better-served using this management system.
“The overall goal is to have the hourly team members see how their actions at this time and hour of the day contribute to the overall value stream and plant,” he adds.
Team members have responded well to the program — 45 of them are certified Six Sigma Green Belts. Lean Six Sigma has worked well for Claryville, driven by the team members’ buying into the program.
The goal of the Lean Six Sigma strategy at Claryville is summed up in one statement: To safely produce a quality, cost-effective product through a culture of trust, respect, inclusion and continuous improvement. It is a business model developed around the team members, and those team members live day to day with the “relentless elimination of waste” on their minds because of it.
Through the strategy, team members learn together to build trust, creating educated team members who respect each other. Cross-functional teams are created to foster and develop continuous improvement, giving every team member opportunities to be included in the overall process.
One of the major tools of Lean Six Sigma that Claryville team members have mastered is that of Value Stream Mapping (VSM). In fact, when the plant added the Ultra Thin line to its portfolio of products, Claryville team members held a value stream mapping event with another plant already producing Ultra Thin to design a process of its own for the Ultra Thin area. The highly efficient lines were installed in 2004 and have been pumping along ever since, producing significantly above original design estimates.
VSM, according to Dwayne A. Stanford, plant change agent at Claryville, is an excellent tool for the plant to help eliminate waste. “Even motion waste, such as carting product or supplies between equipment unnecessarily, can be eliminated through Value Stream Mapping,” Stanford explains. “But it is just one of the tools we use.”
Indeed, team members also perform simulations using Lego® blocks to identify inventory wastes, attend hands-on training seminars and workshops, kaizen, and even some offsite classes taught by the University of Kentucky, all in support of continuous improvement at the Claryville plant.
Value Stream Mapping allowed Claryville to improve its efficiency by opening the eyes of  leadership to the benefit of switching to a “pull system” in its Hot Dog Value Stream.
Today, the Claryville plant is experiencing record-breaking order fill rates for the year on those products, according to John McAndrew, supply chain group vice president for Sara Lee Food & Beverage, as customers benefit from reduced manufacturing and order cycles. Inventory is pulled as the line needs it, instead of waiting in bins or hoppers for the line to keep up. The order is “pulled through” the line this way, minimizing the chance for unnecessary material waste along the way. Switching to a pull system is just one of 143 ideas that team members developed on the Cocktail Value Stream based on VSM.  
Vic Hobday, training coordinator at the plant, says now “the focus is on the dumper as the signal to pull more product, and not having a lot of raw-material inventory waiting at the start of the line.”
Hobday, in fact, was the driver of the development of the Performance Board on the floor in his area. The board contains every bit of information he believed his fellow team members would want or need, all centralized in one easily accessible spot.
“I just tried to look at it from the perspective of, if I were a new employee trying to learn the system, what would I need on a daily basis that otherwise, I’d have to go to my locker to look up,” Hobday relays. “This board helps in that way, and it also helps because, if there happens to be a mistake in the process somewhere, we can catch it right away rather than hear about it later.”
All these plant improvements emanate from the basic Lean Six Sigma question that all team members ask of anything they do: “Why?” Team members who are on a Six Sigma team spend an average of four months in the position and analyze the processes and programs in force during their tenure.
To date, 21 projects had been completed through the Six Sigma Green Belt program, with the first wave of projects focused on increasing customer satisfaction. Lean Six Sigma projects in the plant also have allowed for significant cost savings and improved consistencies in the area of sausage smoke generation and quality checkpoints (which have been moved onto the plant floor, on the line), among others.
All these measurements lead team members to look for other ways to improve the operation. Although, as the bar is raised higher, Claryville team members continue to ask the tough questions and follow through to get the results they desire.
“We firmly believe that we operate by measurements — that if the principals are measured, you know where you’re at,” McAndrew concludes. “What gets measured gets done. Lean relentlessly eliminates waste, maximizing the value our customers receive.”