REV: APRIL 4, 2011
STEFAN THOMKE MONA SINHA
The Dabbawala Sy ystem: On-Time Delivery, Every Time
Our ancestors fought in Shivaji’s ar rmy. Today we fight against time. — Raghunath Medge, President, Dabbawala O Organization Each day throughout the city o Mumbai, India, 5000 individuals called dabbawal delivered of las some 130,000 dabbas (lunchboxes fill with home-cooked food) to offices throughout the metropolis.1 led In the nearly 120 years of this servic Mumbai had changed enormously, becoming, by 2009, India’s ce, financial and commercial capital, h housing some 10.5 million people. Yet the dabbawala approach as’ had remained consistent: a semi-lite erate work force (the dabbawalas) picked up the filled dabbas from d the households that prepared them and delivered the boxes to the requisite offices they then s; retrieved the empty dabbas from these delivery points and returned them to the originating households, in order to begin the p process again the next day. By 2008, roughly 260,000 transactions were completed within six hours e each day, six days a week, 51 weeks a year, and op perating at a quality level comparable to Six-Sigm processes (see Exhibit 1 for Quality Award and Ce ma ertification).2 Moreover, this operational excelle ence was accomplished in the absence of “techno ology,” e.g., computers or even cell phones. Som customers had been using the service for more th 20 years; me han some dabbawalas had been deliverin dabbas for more than twice that time. ng In recent years, the dabbawala sy ystem began to generate worldwide news, attracting t attention the of royalty like Britain’s Prince Char rles, famous industrialists like Sir Richard Branson o the Virgin of Group, and of executives from soph histicated delivery companies like FedEx. It motivate a plethora ed of books, TV documentaries, and a articles. People interested in how the system worked trooped to d Mumbai to chronicle the dabbawa alas in action celebrating more than “supply chain efficiency,” n however; the dabbawalas’ organiza ation was scrutinized, too. It provided lifetime finan ncial welfare and support for all members, who determined their own policies about hiring, logistic customer o cs, acquisition/retention, pricing, and conflict resolution. About 200 groups worked sy d ynchronously throughout the city, each with a des signated area with its own customers, and group mem mbers shared 1 A literal translation of the word “Dabbawala” means “one who carries a box”. “Dabba” is the lunchbox, wh hile “wala” is a d. suffix, denoting a doer of the preceding word 2 Six Sigma is a business management meth hod that seeks to improve process quality through minimizing var riability and the
identification and removal of error causes. Among its methods is the systematic use of statistics. Using a set of process ally s. assumptions, a six-sigma quality level is usua defined as 3.4. defective parts (errors) per million opportunities ________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________
Professor Stefan Thomke and India Research Cente Researcher Mona Sinha prepared this case. Thanks to Rachna Chawla, Rese er earch Coordinator at HBS India Research Center, for her assistance. H cases are developed solely as the basis for class discussion. Cases are not intended to serve HBS as endorsements, sources of primary data, or illustr rations of effective or ineffective management. Some names have been disgui ised. Harvard College. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materia call 1-800-545als, Copyright © 2010, 2011 President and Fellows of H 7685, write Harvard Business School Publishing, B Boston, MA 02163, or go to www.hbsp.harvard.edu/educators. This public cation may not be digitized, photocopied, or otherwise reproduced, posted, or transmitted, without the permission of Harvard Business School.
The Dabbawala System: On-Time Delivery, Every Time...