Dabbawalas of Mumbai

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  • Topic: Tiffin, Dabbawala, Train
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  • Published : September 26, 2011
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THE DABBAWALAS OF MUMBAI:
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 description of Dabbawalas
1. 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. 2. They believe in employing people from their own community to create a sense of bonding among them.

* The Organization:
Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association:
History: Started in 1880
Charitable trust: Registered in 1956
Average literacy rate: 8th grade schooling
Employee strength: 5000 dabbawalas + 800 supervisors(mukadams) No of tiffin’s: 200000 i.e. 400000 transactions per day.
Time taken: 3 hrs.
Distance: 60 km
Error rate: 1 in 16 million approx.
Turnover: Rs 5 crore approximately.
Earnings/employee/month: Rs 5000-6000
Organizational structure:

40 BOXES

40 BOXES

Process flow:
Tiffins are collected from homes between 7.30 am and 10.00 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 3-4 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.

To better understand the complex sorting process, let's take an example. At Vile Parle Station, there are four groups of dabbawalas, each has twenty members and each member services 40 customers. That makes 3,200 tiffins in all. These 3,200 tiffins are collected by 9.00 am, reach the station and are sorted according to their destinations by 10.00 am when the 'Dabbawala Special' train arrives. The railway provides sorting areas on platforms as well as special compartments on trains traveling south between 10.00 am and 11.30 am. During the journey, these 80 dabbawalas regroup according to the number of tiffins to be delivered in a particular area, and not according to the groups they actually belong to. 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. During the earlier sorting process, each dabbawala would have concentrated on locating only those 40 tiffins under his charge, wherever they come from, and this specialisation makes the entire system efficient and error-free. Typically 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.

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. For one, the system limits the routing and sorting to a few central points. Secondly, a simple colour code determines not only packet routing but packet prioritising as lunches transfer from train to bicycle to foot.

Factors Contributing to TEAM WORK:
* Autonomy: Here nobody is an employer and none are employees. Each dabbawala considers himself a shareholder and entrepreneur. Each dabbawala, like any businessman, has to bring some capital with him. The mini-mum investment is 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.

* Competitive and streamlined collaboration: Each group is financially independent but coordinates with others for deliveries: the service could not exist otherwise. The process is competitive at the customers' end and united at...
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