Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Amazing Story of the Mumbai Dabbawallahs

This must be the nth time when someone is writing about the Dabbawallahs (It is a Hindi word which means packed lunch delivery boys). But the story is so amazing that I still cannot cease to wonder about it !

Four thousand five hundred semi-literate dabbawallahs in Mumbai (Bombay, in Western India) collect and deliver 175,000 packages within hours.

 Who are the dabbawallahs ? How do they do it ?  What is the driver for their success ?

Descendants of soldiers of the legendary Maharashtrian warrior-king Shivaji, dabbawalas belong to the Malva caste, and arrive in Mumbai from places like Rajgurunagar, Akola, Ambegaon, Junnar and Maashi. Mumbai's 5,000 dabbawallahs - ferry nearly 200,000 home-cooked meals from the outer suburbs into the city each day.

Forbes magazine  awarded the dabbawallahs  a six-sigma performance rating, which ranks them alongside the likes of GE and Motorola in terms of efficiency and quality of service.

Some numbers…. :
  • 175000 boxes are transported every day, it has to go to the right person, it has to start from a point of origination, go through transshipment in the infrastructure which is the public infrastructure in the trains of Mumbai in all seasons including the monsoon and it has to arrive on time in the right place in the right box."
  • 4,500 semi-literate members providing a quality door-to-door service to a large and loyal customer base.
  • Tiffins are collected from homes between 7.00 am and 9.00 am
  • After Lunch hour  the whole process moves into reverse and the tiffins return to suburban homes by 6.00 pm.
  • The railway provides sorting areas on platforms as well as special compartments on trains traveling south between 10.00 am and 11.30 am
  • If 150 tiffins are to be delivered in the Grant Road Station area, then four people are assigned to that station, keeping in mind one person can carry no more than 35-40 tiffins.
  • It takes about ten to fifteen minutes to search, assemble and arrange 40 tiffins onto a crate, and by 12.30 pm they are delivered to offices.
  • The dabbawallah have to make a minimum investment of two bicycles (approximately Rs 4,000), a wooden crate for the tiffins (Rs 500), at least one white cotton kurta-pyjama (Rs 600), and Rs 20 for the trademark Gandhi topi.
  • Service charges vary from Rs 150 to Rs 300 per tiffin per month, depending on location and collection time. Money is collected in the first week of every month.
  • Typically, a twenty member group has 675 customers and earns Rs 100,000 per month which is divided equally even if one dabbawala has 40 customers while another has 30. Groups compete with each other, but members within a group do not.
  • Meetings are held in the office on the 15th of every month at the Dadar

After the customer leaves for work, her lunch is packed into a tiffin provided by the dabbawala. A color-coded notation on the handle identifies its owner and destination. Once the dabbawala has picked up the tiffin, he moves fast using a combination of bicycles, trains and his two feet.

A BBC crew filming dabbawalas in action was amazed at their speed. "Following our dabbawala wasn't easy, our film crew quickly lost him in the congestion of the train station. At Victoria Terminus we found other fast moving dabbawalas, but not our subject... and at Mr Bhapat's ayurvedic pharmacy, the lunch had arrived long before the film crew," the documentary noted wryly.

The key ingredient to this smooth, effective and efficient system is teamwork and process. Logistics is the  mantra for building competitive advantage, the world over. Mumbai's dabbawalas developed their home-grown version long before the term was coined.

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.

This amazing system has been made the case study of top management institutes like Harvard and Stanford universities. The dabbawallah  representative were  invited to the Royal wedding of the Prince Charles !

Their motto seems to be "As long as people need tiffins we will be there to supply them."

Kudos to the  dabbawallahs and long live teamwork and  processes !

1 comment:

  1. An excellent example of synchronized quality system in the world.