Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Meet the most efficient system in the world - dabbawalas

Amazing story of dabbawalas from Mumbai, India - world famous lunch caterers who move 400,000 lunch boxes every day using trains and bicycles.

If you visit Mumbai, you are bound to notice the dabbawalas. You may not realize this, but the dabbawalas are a very important part of life in Mumbai. They are th
e ones who make sure that nearly 200,000 people get their lunch in time at their offices or schools, everyday, from home. Their operations are so efficient that world personalities like Prince Charles and Richard Branson have visited them. They have been invited for lectures at business schools, they are even said to be six sigma compliant. Now what is a dabba? A dabba is simply a tiffin box carrying home-cooked food, which is to be delivered from the home to a person in an office or a school. And a dabbawala is a person who picks up the food from the home, and ensures that it is delivered to the right office, to the right person on time. "My name is Raghunath D. Medge. I am the President of the Dabbawala association. The operation started in 1890. We have 5,000 members (dabbawalas)."

It all may sound fairly simple, but imagine doing this in one of the most densely populated cities in the world. The dabbawalas have high rates of accuracy and their error rates are shockingly one in a million only. And what is even more impressive, that all the dabbawalas are fairly illiterate and have no use of any technology. The only motorized transport used is the Mumbai local trains. Other than that they make use of hand-drawn carts and bicycles. "I leave my bicycle at the train station. At the delivery point I use someone else's bicycle. And my bicycle is used by another person." The dabbas, or the lunch boxes, have a color-coding scheme which makes sure that they get to the right destination. The structure of this organization is fairly flat. It has just three levels. First, the governing body, second the team leads or the supervisors, and third, the dabbawalas. And everyone is an equal shareholder in this organization. There are no bosses, and the earnings are equally divided. "Everyone is working for the team. If one person works less, the entire team's income is reduced " 

All the dabbawalas come from the same Warkari sect, and whenever any replacement is required, villages that have this Warkari sect are approached for suitable candidates. To join this organization as a dabbawala, the dabbawalas have to bring a few things: a long wooden crate, two bicycles and rupees 20 for a Ghandi cap that they wear. And how much do you think would it cost to avail of this very efficient dabba service? Less than ten dollars a month. While the operations are fairly simple, the dabbawalas are now beginning to work with newer technologies. You can SMS them, or you can also log on to their site, to avail of their services. "I was invited to Prince Charles' wedding. I was invited to Italy twice. Forbes magazine did research on us. BBC made a documentary on us. When people see our operations, they say why not give us six sigma status? We don't even know what is six sigma." 

And given their reach in Mumbia, Microsoft has also partnered with the dabbawalas. The dabbawalas distributed leaflets and wore Microsoft-branded clothes to spread awareness of genuine Windows softwares to their customers. "We are 5,000 in number, moving 400,000 lunch boxes a day, using local trains, bicycles, and manpower. " 


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