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By : Shailena Varma, Logistics Manager, Target
Industry : Retail Chain/Logistics Functional Area : Business Processes
Activity:  10 comments  18421 views  last activity : 02 27 2012 08:00:16 +0000
 Refer 90

Four thousand five hundred semi-literate dabbawalas collect and deliver 175,000 packages within hours. What should we learn from this unique, simple and highly efficient 120-year-old logistics system?

The Dabbawalas who provide a lunch delivery service in Mumbai have been in the business for over 100 years. In 1998, Forbes Global magazine conducted an analysis and gave them a Six Sigma rating of efficiency.

The system the dabbawalas have developed over the years revolves around strong teamwork and strict time-management. At 9am every morning, home-made meals are picked up in special boxes, which are loaded onto trolleys and pushed to a railway station. They then make their way by train to an unloading station. The boxes are rearranged so that those going to similar destinations, indicated by a system of coloured lettering, end up on the same trolley. The meals are then delivered—99.9999% of the time, to the right address.

Harvard Business School has produced a case study of the dabbawalas, urging its students to learn from the organisation, which relies entirely on human endeavour and employs no technology.

"A model of managerial and organizational simplicity" says  Ck Prahlad for the dabbawalas

Six sigma performance

Every day, battling the traffic and crowds of Mumbai city, the Dabbawalas, also known as Tiffin wallahs unfailingly delivered thousands of dabbas to hungry people and later returned the empty dabbas to where they came from. The Dabbawalas delivered either home-cooked meals from clients' homes or lunches ordered for a monthly fee, from women who cook at their homes according to the clients' specifications. The Dabbawalas' service was used by both working people and school children.

  • In 1998, Forbes Global magazine, conducted a quality assurance study on the Dabbawalas' operations and gave it a Six Sigma efficiency rating of 99.999999; the Dabbawalas made one error in six million transactions.
  • In 1998, two Dutch filmmakers, Jascha De Wilde and Chris Relleke made a documentary called 'Dabbawallahs, Mumbai's unique lunch service'.
  • In July 2001, The Christian Science Monitor, an international newspaper published from Boston, Mass., USA, covered the Dabbawalas in an article called 'Fastest Food: It's Big Mac vs. Bombay's dabbawallahs'.
  • In 2002, Jonathan Harley, a reporter, did a story on the Dabbawalas with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). In 2003, BBC also aired a program on the Dabbawalas, which was part of a series on unique businesses of the world.
  • In 2003, Paul S. Goodman and Denise Rousseau, both faculty at the Graduate School of Industrial Administration of Carnegie Mellon University, made their first full-length documentary called 'The Dabbawallas'. Instead of asking how knowledge in developing countries can help less developed countries, this film focuses on how developed countries can learn from less developed countries".
  • Back home, the Dabbawalas were invited to speak at Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) meets and at leading Indian business schools such as IIM, Bangalore and Lucknow.

The organisation structure and the working style..

The Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers' Charity Trust had a very flat structure with only three levels, the Governing Council, the Mukadams and the Dabbawalas . From the Governing Council, a President and a Secretary were elected. The Governing Council held meetings once a month which were attended by the Mukadams and Dabbawalas. At these meetings, the Dabbawalas discussed their problems and explored possible solutions. The problems could be with the police, municipal corporation, customers, etc. They also adjudicated disputes among Dabbawalas using their own system. The Trust collected Rs.15 from each Dabbawala every month to maintain a welfare fund...

Here is a video of "A day in the life of Mumbai Dabbawalas." .This will give you a clear picture about their efforts and their working style.

Uninterrupted services

Would you expect your tiffin man to deliver tiffin to you on a heavy monsoon day?

The answer would be No.  Except for people using the dabbawalas service. Because they have  a record of uninterrupted even on the days of severe weather such as Mumbai's characteristic monsoons. The local dabbawalas at the receiving and the sending ends are known to the customers personally, so that there is no question of lack of trust.

Team work

The entire system depends on teamwork and meticulous timing. Tiffins are collected from homes between 7.00 am and 9.00 am, and taken to the nearest railway station. At various intermediary stations, they are hauled onto platforms and sorted out for area-wise distribution, so that a single tiffin could change hands three to four times in the course of its daily journey.

At Mumbai's downtown stations, the last link in the chain, a final relay of dabbawalas fan out to the tiffins' destined bellies. Lunch hour over, the whole process moves into reverse and the tiffins return to suburban homes by 6.00 pm.

Elegant logistics

In the dabbawalas' elegant logistics system, using 25 kms of public transport, 10 km of footwork and involving multiple transfer points, mistakes rarely happen. According to a Forbes 1998 article, one mistake for every eight million deliveries is the norm. How do they achieve virtual six-sigma quality with zero documentation? For one, the system limits the routing and sorting to a few central points. Secondly, a simple color code determines not only packet routing but packet prioritising as lunches transfer from train to bicycle to foot.

So friends what all can you learn from them? Aren't they great..!!!

In this high technologically advanced time these people are working absolutely without it. They have an excellent supply chain, they dont even know what it means. Most of the people working with them are semi-literate but still they read the tiffin code correctly and deliver it Their attitude of competitive collaboration is equally unusual, particularly in India.

The operation process is competitive at the customers' end but united at the delivery end, ensuring their survival since a century and more. Is their business model worth replicating in the digital age is the big question.

There are many more things to learn from them...What do you say?

 Top Comment : Makrand Bhave   | 05 28 2009 06:27:45 +0000
Absolutely. Its a case study at Harvard Univ and probably many more in Europe as well!!
10 comments on "The Amazing story of Mumbai Dabbawalas..!!"
  Commented by  Srinivas suravajhala, Asst. Manager.    | 02 27 2012 08:00:02 +0000
Yes it was a case study for their "Six Sigma" performance.  But, now this service seems to loosing its sheen due to many reasons.
  Commented by  Shashi Kumar U, Manager accounts & commercial, Mazda Concrete Products Pvt Ltd    | 02 27 2012 06:14:58 +0000
It shows that aprefect system can work very very effectively even without high tech
  Commented by  Shikha GaRg, Pursuing Graduation student, Thapar Inst Of Engineering & Technology, Patiala    | 02 25 2012 18:39:21 +0000
who is behind all this?
  Commented by  Vinoy Scaria James, Consultant, Travel Hub    | 02 25 2012 09:08:19 +0000
A real miracle indeed.
  Commented by  konkan SINGHA, Head- Talent Acquisition (IT), OptedJobs    | 02 25 2012 05:33:36 +0000
  Commented by  Chiran Dumre, B.B.A student, Stratford University    | 02 24 2012 15:57:25 +0000
the Mumbai dhabba wala is wellknown for their operations efficiency. what makes this possible.?.....
can someone write one or two paragraphs on this???? 
  Commented by  drpatnaik, Head-BD, Ramky    | 11 15 2010 11:12:49 +0000
It has something to do with supply chain management and one has to learn from this.
  Commented by  Sri Sri, consultant, NOYB Inc    | 09 20 2010 18:25:17 +0000
The reason for their success is that they dont have "Managers" and everyone "Delivers".
  Commented by  Sudeep Tarafdar, Senior Consultant, IBM    | 05 29 2009 13:07:10 +0000
Because of their great history from the times of British rule, thats why even Prince Charles came to see them, he made his visit just to see the Dabbawala's and nobody else, by which you can imagine their way of work, culture and their vast history...
  Commented by  Makrand Bhave, Sales Promotion Manager, XYZ    | 05 28 2009 06:27:45 +0000
Rating : +1 

Its a case study at Harvard Univ and probably many more in Europe as well!! 
Add your comment on "The Amazing story of Mumbai Dabbawalas..!!"

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