by tybmmjourno

My attention was grabbed one morning at Dadar station when I saw few people walking with quite a number of tiffins. I was very confused for a while. After noticing what they were doing, I asked a woman standing next to me, who are those people? This was one of the strangest answer, I have ever come across with. She told me, “They are Mumbai Dabbawalas”. Being a non-mumbaite, it was a weird but wonderful concept for me and finally with the help of google, I discovered what actually it is.

Presently Mumbai is the home of 5,000 Dabbawalas. They are the icons of efficiency. The system in which they operate is well structured. Their job is to carry cooked lunches to office workers. Interestingly their working system has made it to the Harvard Business Review as a case study.

Among many other, Dabbawalas is one of the specialty of Mumbai. As it does not have an equivalent in other cities. They take the cooked food from people’s home and deliver the meal to offices. USP of this business is trust, which the Dabbawals have built-in so many years. They do not have the word mistakes in their dictionaries. They not only carry tiffins but sometimes coustomer’s spectacles and mobile phones.

They originally come from the marginalized and oppressed socio-economic groups. They belong to a particular community of Maharashtrian.

Maharashtra has seen numerous movements like textile movement, dalit movement and feminist movement. The Dabbawalas are greatly influenced by the Bhakti movement and due to this reason one cannot call their efficiency is only there because of management phenomenon but also because they are connected to their cultural values.

Stefan H. Thomke, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and author of a case study titled, “The Dabbawala System: On Time Delivery, Every Time,” believes that while the fact that new members are recruited from 30 villages in and around Pune contributes to the organization’s performance, there are many other critical factors that reinforce each other and must be considered. “Most importantly, the dabbawala’s performance can only be understood if we study the entire system — their culture, management, organization and processes — and how these factors interact with each other,” Thomke notes. “You cannot copy one single factor … And hope to replicate performance without regard to others.”

Guarantee is what they look for, which is a verbal promise of the candidate’s character by an existing member. Twin process is the mantra of their success, which combines competitive collaboration between the team members along with amazing technical efficiency in logistic management. Speed is another factor, which not only allow them to deliver tiffins on time but also collect them back and rearrange them in their specific order. Bicycle, trains and their foot is what they use for travelling. They use public transport for the first 25 kms then 10 km of footwork. Meanwhile there are multiple transfer points. As a result, there are few chances of mistakes.  They set the perfect example of teamwork and scrupulous timing.

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 also packet prioritizing as lunches transfer from train to bicycle to foot.

This kind of work management is rarely seen and it is the luck of Mumbai and the people living here that they are able to benefit themselves through the service provided by these Mumbai Dabbawalas. There are numerous of things, which separates Mumbai from rest of the country. As bollywood is in Mumbai, it is the economic capital of the country etc. Now, one can also say that Mumbai also has its Dabbawalas that is not there in the rest of the cities of India.

Unnati Maharudra