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The service which has surprised one and all by its efficient work and management skill, many things come into the mind when one thinks about dabbawalas their supply chain management their distribution network structure, the team work of the system, the unique coding system followed by to identify and deliver the Tiffin boxes and finally the mutual trust and goodwill that they have created for themselves in the minds of the people of Mumbai with their unique service its one of the oldest service system in Mumbai which has survived the hardship of time. The association of the dabbawalas in Mumbai is over a hundred years old. It began as a Tiffin carrier service for particular community who worked in downtown Mumbai. Today, this organization caters to over 2, 00,000 customers everyday, using 60 - 80kilometers of the cities transport service with the help of over 5000 individual dabbawalas aiming to serve the customer with full dedication and hard work. This system basically involves service of delivering Tiffins from the customers residence in the morning transporting it by train to the destination station and then dispatching it to the respective offices. The system involved follows a strict pattern of operation they are time specific and are standard everyday. The entire system is dependent upon the coding, which is an ingenious creation which is easy to decipher by the semi illiterate dabbawalas. The system is recognized worldwide for their accurate operation and it has received six sigma certification from Forbes and ISO 9001: 2000 certification for its error free operation. The dabbawalas are famous case study in all the reputed B- school for their efficient management skill and they have the pleasure of respect from great personalities like Prince Charles, Princess Diana and Richard Branson who visited them on their trip to India. They are appreciated for their hard work and efficient management skill they posses.

Dabbawalas are following efficient SBU ( strategic business management ) concept before it was even introduced , they have monopoly in their type of business with very tough competition by the fast food and canteens which can be explained by applying porters five forces. SWOT analysis is necessary to study the various aspects of the business and gain more knowledge about its present and future. Being the traditional Indian management system, it is bound by simplicity and efficiency. It is technology free and does not involve any paper work, modern communication techniques. It is an esteemed organization and is an aspiration to companies and other organization across the globe. In absence of HR policies and guidance Dabbawalas are highly motivated and there is zero attrition rates. They give us enormous knowledge about many management concepts. India take proud of such an organization and give it due recognition and support.

Every city has beautiful building and views but no other city ,in the world has DABBAWALAS. This is a story of a conventional Indian system of management that is today a favorite case study among management institution for a simple reason that is doesnt use any technology and yet outperforms most organizations in operational efficiency. To the extent that it received a six sigma rating from forbes international and has received ISO 9001:2001 certificate. They are famous for their supply chain management their distribution network structure, their team work. Dabbawalas work efficiently in absence of any human resource policies and continuous supervision. A look at this unique lunch delivery system of dabbawalas reinforces the fact that work is both an economic and a social necessity while the economic necessity gets answered by the fact that because the labor is cheap, tiffin boxes are delivered at lower rates than the cost of the outside restaurant meals. The social necessity is fulfilled by the delivery of the tiffin boxes to the customers and satisfying them. DABBAWALAS Dabbawalas are believed to be the descendants of the soldiers of the great Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the founder of the Maratha Empire. They belong to places like Rajgurunagar, Akola, Ambeggaon, Junnar and Mashi. The dabbawalas ancestors used to climb up the fort hills in a single breath thats probably the kind of energy the dabbawalas have inherited which helps them to maintain an undisturbed monopoly in this profession.

Mumbai the city of dreams and ambitions has been on the fast track since the British had developed the basic infrastructure of roads, railway and buildings. When the British ruled India, the prime business centers were fort and billard pier areas. These were the places that have housed banks government departments, insurance houses, shipping companies and other industrial head office, soon residential colonies moved further away from the fort area and hence a lot of office goers started finding it difficult to go home for their lunch from work carrying lunch boxes was also not a preferred routine . In 1890 , a parsi banker working in ballard pier employed a young man, from Pune district, to bring his lunch everyday. More and more people joined the group through referrals and soon it was taken as a serious business. As the business grew the tiffin-carrying entrepreneur had to hire more helping hands from his village. This led to the unleashing of an army that even today in the 21st century serves millions of mumbites with same spirit and competence. Today, 5000 dabbawalas across Mumbai coordinate with each other for picking up and delivering the tiffins for over 2,00,000 Mumbaites everyday in 3 hour period, through 60kms of public transport and in very rare case a tiffin may miss being on its owners lunch table at the lunch hour. The organization is really a marvel because it achieves a high level of efficiency and performance without any documentation, without computers and without an highly educated workforce. Yet, they are the ultimate practitioner of logistics management. They have been practicing hub and spoke system, just in time tactics, no inventory policy and supply chain management principles even before these terms were even coined.

The dabbawalas follow a flat organization structure .In 1890, when the dabbawalas actually began their services, there was no umbrella organization the first attempt to unionize was made by Mahadev Bacche in 1930. The carriers started collecting one anna each per month then as fund and these funds were used to build an inn in 1940. A charitable trust was registered in 1956 under the name of NUTAN MUMBAI TIFFINBOX SUPPLIERS TRUST . Today every dabbawala contribute certain amount per month towards the trust. The commercial arm of this trust was registered later in 1968 as MUMBAI TIFFIN BOX CARRIERS ASSOCIATION The NMTBST is the apex body representing the dabbawalas. It represents a trim hierarchy with three tiers. The governing council the mukadams or team leader, and the dabbawallas themselves

The 5000 dabbawalas are divided into 3 sets of activities. Between 9-9:30 am, one crew of dabbawalas collects freshly packed Tiffin from individual homes and delivers it to the nearest railway station, when they are sorted at a place designated as sorting places on the station itself. This sorting is done as per the destination stations, then, the train for churchgate or CST departs between 10:30 11:00 am and stops at all stations with intermediate stop over for the dabbawalas like Thane, Kurla, Andheri and Dadar. At these junction, the second set of dabbawalas exchange and sort the Tiffins in a speedy manner, involving zero documentation. Then there is a third set of dabbawalas waiting at the respective destination- station who sort out and assemble the respective set of tiffins and load them into handcraft, trays, bicycles and then, each carrier sets out for the final delivery. Not to mention, after all these efficiently carried out activities, a tiffin boxrarely misses the destined stomach at lunchtime.

The job of dabbawalas begins at around 8:00 8:30 am with collect in the tiffins from various households. Usually, people generally leave their tiffins outside the door for the dabbawalas to pick up. In case they are late, the dabbawalas have to urge them to hurry up at times, very rarely though; the dabbawalas have to leave the clients tiffin if it gets really late.

The dabbawala picks up the tiffin from his lot of houses and meets the other group members at the designated spot at the station. They should make sure that they reach the platform for the sorting process at least 30 minutes prior in order to ensure a smooth flow of their networking throughout the daily routine. Now starts the critical phase of the system that is sorting of all the tiffins as per the destination station and to arrange them in the wooden crates in a short period of 2025minutes. The aim of this process is to segregate the tiffins in order to differentiate them as per the destination and therefore it is important to make easier and less time consuming for the respective dabbawala. This is essentially the process that makes the entire system error-free. Since each tiffins changes

many hand, each of the lids of the tiffin is marked With a colored code indicating the originating station, destination and the building with the floor number the coding system is the secret behind the efficient working of the system and that is exactly the reason why the network is information rich. Dabbawalas are semiliterate they understand the coding on the tiffins and can effectively deliver them on time. This is a very unique feature also because it requires no documentation or record keeping. There is no communication between two different groups of dabbawalas but there is just simple coordination among them because the whole blue print is pre-decided by the dabbawalas themselves. Thus, the dabbawalas have to ensure over here about proper coordination among them, understand the coding system on the tiffins and delegate the jobs of dispatching the tiffins to the respective dabbawalas. The mukadam plays a key role over here to ensure the smooth working and proper coordination. The responsibility of the mukadam is to the extent that he has to know all the tiffins that his group carrier. Therefore, he must be able to recognize these tiffins thathis group carries. Therefore, he must be able to recognize these tiffins even is the codes on them are barely visible. Also, if any member of the group abstains from his duty for a particular day for some reason, then it is the responsibility of the mukadam to ensure that all the dabbas that the absentee was responsible for are duly picked up and delivered back on time. Hence, we see that the mukadam plays a key role in this stage of sorting and allocating jobs. The dabbawalas load the wooden crates filled with tiffins onto the luggage or goods compartment in the train. Generally, they choose to occupy the last compartment of the train. This not only makes it more convenient for them as they avoid the rush at the platform but is also very easy to locate as the last compartment is conveniently situated once the train arrives at the platform. Mostly, other commuters avoid boarding onto these compartments as they are already filled with the crates and there is not enough room. There are also others joining into the group from these stations as they have common destination points.

The allocation of manpower at each station depends on the number of tiffins that are to be delivered in that particular area. If there are 150 tiffins that are to be delivered in Grant Road area, then 4 people would be assigned to that station. This is done keeping in mind that one person can carry not more than 35 dabbas. They will also be assigned specific codes which are written on top of the tiffin. These four dabbawala can be from any groups and irrespective of any station. Their job is now to deliver these 150 tiffins irrespective of which group they belong to. If the number of tiffins that are to be delivered in an area like, Nariman point, is large then the number of people allocated goes up. Within that area, if one location, lets say, Mittal towers, hasa huge number of the location number remains the same and the tiffins are differentiated on the basis of color. A unique feature of the system is that in bigger buildings with large office densities, like nariman point, or the stock exchange itself, an elevator is specially reserved for the dabbawalas during the lunchtime. Usually these elevators have queues throughout the day as the offices are extremely busy and hence, in order to provide convenience and quick delivery without queues, the dabbawalas have a special elevator reserved for themselves onto which others cannot board. In some cases, they also leave the tiffins in the canteen that is common to the whole building and hence the respective owners can simply pich up theirs. This is also a feature seen in school where the dabbawalas deliver. So, in this process, the dabbawalas save a lot of time by cutting short the delivery process. Thereafter, the dabbawalas take a break and have their own lunch which is usually their tiffins kept along with the others in the crate with special markings. Different groups have their lunch at different locations. It is generally on the footpath or some benches on the roadside. The break is usually of 45-60 minutes in duration. Till then, the customers must finish having their lunch and keep the dabbas outside for the dabbawala to collect.


VPThe first thing on the tiffin, is the code for the originating station from where the dabbawalas picks up the tiffin in the morning. In this case VP denotes Vile Parle. The area under this station will include Juhu and also J.V.P.D scheme since this is the only station ,which is nearest. Even if the dabbawala goes it the most interior parts like juhu ,it will not be mentioned in the coding simply because the dabbawalas are just concerned about the respective railway station. A This is the code for the dabbawala who is picking up the tiffin from its origin or home. In this case, the dabbawala with the code of E ` , will be a part of the group distinguished by the color code RED. In many instances, the code will be the initial of the name of the dabbawala. This is one of the elements that can be changed during the course of time if the dabbawala for that particular customer changes.

3This is the code for the destination area. This may not necessarily be restricted to a station only. For, instance, churchgate is allotted number codes from 1-10.

Number 11 is allotted to Marine lines ,12 to Charni road and so on. In this example , the number 3 is allotted to the area between Flora Fountain and cross Maidan area . Other prime location would include Nariman point, stock exchange, ballard pier, RBI etc. 9EX12 9 This is the code number for the dabbawala who delivers the tiffin to the destination office from Churchgate station. This is the dabbawala who is responsible for delivering to the respective office and picking it up after the lunch hours. He is a part of another group from the one he worked with at the originating station. Thus, in most cases , each dabbawala will be a part of more than one group for sure one at the origin and one at the destination. VSThis code denotes the exact location or more likely, the buildings initial in the area that falls under churchgate station. In this case, it is the VSNL building VS being the initial for the building is unique and therefore , creates no confusion whatsoever for the dabbawalas. Office buildings around southern Mumbai are very popular and hence , easy to comprehend when given in codes. Other examples would be M for mittal towers, R for RBI , and MC for Makers Chambers and so on. 12 Finally , the last code among the three codes that form the right side of the top of the dabba is the floor on the building ( VSNL) or the room number in case of building with large number of rooms on each floor. Such an example would be stock exchange ,RBI, and BMC etc.

The dabbawalas operate in groups of 25-30. Each group pool in the collected money and deduct the expenses that was incurred during the month like the train pass, bicycle maintenance and other charges and average of the amount is divided equally among the group. Each dabbawala earns minimum Rs.5000 Rs.6000 per month The salary of the dabbawala depends on the number of customer the group serves.


An important feature of the dabbawalas service is customer satisfaction also the ultimate objective of any logistic operation Keeping in line with this objective, all problem are usually resolved by the associationsofficials1.Like of theft or loss of a Tiffin-box, if any carrier is found guilty then the client is allowed to deduct the costs from the dabbawalas charges for the subsequent month. If a client receives improper services by any dabbawala, for which a complaint has been made to the association that particular dabbawala will be directed to end his services with that client and another dabbawala will be allotted to the client. In this manner, no future disputes between that client and the dabbawala will arise and with the allocation of another dabbawala is his place, the client will also receive continuous and efficient service. Thus leading to greater customer satisfaction.2.The association also has the responsibility of handling all the internal disputes. Apart from discouraging undercutting between two dabbawalas, the association has to handle all kinds of disputes arising between two dabbawalas. For this reason, the association charges Rs.100-200/- before looking into the complaint. This is done to ensure that the officials time is not wasted on any petty disputes. A meeting is conducted every 1 days of every month at the dadar office where all the committee members assemble and all

complaints and disputes are heard and resolved. The dabbawalas are not supposed to take any major decision and are not supposed to claim any amount arising out of a disputes until the actual dispute matter is brought forward in front of everyone during the monthly meet.3.Each Tiffin carrier has to pay Rs.15 to the union every month. This money accumulates and helps as aid in maintaining and funding their Dharamshalas at various locations in Maharashtra. This is a social of the association since the dabbawalas get proper accommodation whenever they go to these places.4.In the association code of ethics, no dabbawala is allowed to undercut another. As far as possible, coordination among groups is encouraged so that undercutting doesnt lead to disputes.5.The whole dabbawalas union takes a one week break every year in the month of March when all go to Ambegaon for their annual village festival. This is a welcome break from the hectic day to day routine that the dabbawala follow. All customer are informed much in advance about this period when the dabbawalas will collectively remain absent from duty. This is the individual dabawalas responsibility to communicate with the clients and in order to authenticate the reason for the leave, the association also circulates notices for customer along with each carrier.6.Wearing the traditional white cap is very important. It is the only integral symbol of the dabbawala. If a dabbawala is caught not wearing the cap, he will be finedRs.30 when spotted by the official.7.Each dabbawala is allowed to carry a maximum of 35 Tiffin boxes. If the number is more than 35, then the excess Tiffins need to be carried by another carrier.8.In the long historical relationship with Mumbai city, the dabbawalas have one major unattended demand. The union has constantly requested the railways to reserve one goods compartment for them during the peak hours but they have not been adhered to. But, it is an unwritten rule that people are not to load the particular goods compartment occupied by dabbawalas for their goods. Meaning between 10:00 and 11:30 am and 15:00 to16:30 hrs, commuters generally are not supposed to board the goods compartment occupied by the dabbawallas. In fact , until the 1970`s, the particular compartment read something like reserved for Tiffin carrier.

But with growing number of commuters and more and more demand for better service and space, this reservation has been discontinued.9.Every dabbawala has to handle his own expenses handcraft and bicycle maintenance, railway pass , luggage pass and all other contribution and fees. They can also opt for the loan from union at around 5%p.a , which is lower than market rate of interest. The union also runs a small co-operative bank in order to help the dabbawalas and the community as a whole. The dabbawalas belong to a large community and hence, it is a part of the associations social commitment to help achieve the upliftment of the community.

In the year 1998 the famous US business Magazine The Forbes gave the dabbawalas system a SIX SIGMA plus performance rating or a 99.999999 percentage of correctness. In simple words, this means one error in six million transactions, a benchmark reserved for blue chip companies like Motorola. From a six sigma perspective the dabbawalas must contend with two critical quality parameters, the lunch boxes must be delivered on time. The response variables therefore are arrival time and correct box delivered which has been well adhered to by the dabbawalas.


Team work Logistics And Supply chain management 99.99% Quality Performance Customer relationship management Time management



There is no protection for the dabbawalas from the rain and scorching sun. Even the dabbas are not under any cover or protection except for what is actually given by the customer. Raincoats do not provide adequate protection when they have to cycle around. Whereas, umbrellas are more of a haste o carry around during their hectic activities. Thus, they are vulnerable to any illness during the season. As for the dabbas, its not much of a worry because the rainwater isnt going to get into the food anyway. There is also a minute risk of the bicycles getting stolen or tiffins getting stolen or lost but its extremely rare. Since three is no insurance for anything, what is lost is a loss incurred by the responsible dabawala. In case the tiffin gets stolen or lost, the respective customers of the dabbawalas are to deduct the amount from the dabbawalas salary. Another cases, where the incident of the loss is due to the fault of another member that leads to a dispute, that matter is then settled during the monthly meetings held at dadar where the committee decides who will bear the compensation and who is to be blamed. Of course, the loss of a tiffin is a one in 8 million cases that leads to the achievement of six sigma distinction. As for the bicycles, the dabbawalas usually have an understanding with the watchmen or security people who take care of these cycles as the dabbawalas areaway delivering. In case they do get stolen, nobody is blamed and the dabbawala has to bear the loss completely. During morning times, the carriage would take around 40-50 tiffins. Now, each tiffins is filled with food and the whole carriage weighs on an average 70-80 kgs. This is extremely heavy for a head load. But the dabbaala manage this as their daily routine. So much weight in the scorching heat of the day may lead to fatigue and therefore is unsafe for them but due to the physical fitness levels, it is rare for a dabbawala to fall ill due to fatigue. But there is no welfare policy in this regards. The only welfare activity carried out by the union is the social gathering that the association carries out every year at their village festival

A SWOT analysis is very important for a thorough and complete analysis of the Dabbawallas system. Being over a 100 years old organization ,it is bound to have many strength inherent in the system and it may also have certain weaknesses arising out of conventional methodology. There will be several opportunities since it is such an open organization and its performance is also always visible to everyone. Lastly , there will surely be certain threats to this system. Increasing competition from various other means and sources that provide similar or substituting services to commuters will also have a great impact on the organization.

SIMPLICITY IN ORGANIZATION The organizational structure is very simple. It is a loose cooperative with the entire organization divided into strategic business units that is group of 10-20 individual dabbawalas. These group are responsible for their own sources of money and have to maintain their own accounts if required. Therefore , they are financially independent. With relatively medium income levels and greater levels of customer satisfaction, this organization does not at all need a rigid operating structure. COORDINATION The groups, although independent as far as money matter are concerned ,work very smoothly and effectively with each other. Not only is the coordination within the group is perfect but also the coordination among different groups is really remarkable. A group responsible for a particular area in Andheri will effectively coordinate with other groups on the way to churchgate station and will gradually, the individuals will merge into groups for delivery. The effectiveness of coordination can best be seen during the sorting process. There is

no rivalry whatsoever among different groups and the functioning is smooth and problem free.

ILLITERACY The majority of the members of the dabbawala association can only manage to sign their names. They are unable to read or write in English. This poses as major problem in case the individual leaves the association and has to look at an alternative profession. His inability to read or write will then pose a problem to his own survival. The association does not take any up any initiative to educate the dabbawalas. As a part of its welfare and social commitment, education is absent from the agenda. Butthe dabbawalas do manage to carry out their operations with their limited ability to read and write. They are able to comprehend the codes imprinted on the tiffins. If they are totally illiterate.

ADVERTISING The dabbawalas have been approached by various companies before for advertising on the tiffins. The most famous and successful campaign to date has been the ` kaun banega crorepati ` advertisement. Star plus approached the organization and offered a amount of Rs.10,000 for pasting its stickers o every tiffin box. This is incidentally the standard rate the association charges from every company that wishes to advertise. The ` 9 baj gaye kya? ` campaign was a great success as all office goers would notice this on their tiffin boxes everyday and would hence remember to watch the program at 9 pm every night. It had a great recall value. Thus, association has several more opportunities to grab in form of additional revenue that arises from these advertisement is also minute compared to the exposure that it offers. The contract would-be on a weekly basis or a monthly basis.

Other Cities The dabbawala network could also work in other cities but in smaller scale. Cities like pune already have a small network of dabbawalas who operation bicycle only. There is definitely a source of income in such cities as there is a huge market. Although the absence of local train makes it very difficult for the dabbawalas to operate is major cities like Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad ,Ahmadabad etc but they can operate in medium scale. Cities like Delhi now have the metro rail as an efficient means of transport. Thus, these cities are a great opportunity
for the dabbawalas to expand their service network.

The business of the dabawallas had to withstand some major shocks during the last decade. Textile Industry Shutdown - A major chuck of the clientele were lost with the closure of textile mills in Mumbai. These mills constituted a huge labour force and thus , their was a severe blow to the dabbawalas. Change In Timings - Many of the citys banks changed their timings from 10:30 hrs to 11:00 hrs. The RBI employees used to leave for work at 9:00 am previously and so there were crates of tiffins leaving from the colonies but after the changes in timing, they can leave an hour later and take their lunch with them as they have sufficient time for the preparation.


Utmost dependence on Human Capital The most vital link in this chain of food delivery is human capital. The procedures could have been laid down over a century ago, but it is the Implementation of the procedures that makes the system work. The Mumbai dabbawalas propagate that correct amount of human dependence can yield amazing results. Honesty and Integrity The threads of integrity and honesty hold the dabbas together. Though it is lunchtime for dabbawalas also, the aroma wafting from the dabbas has never tempted them. Overcoming a basic instinct like hunger is possible only because of strong roots in a culture that encourages truthfulness and integrity. Discipline and Time Management The dabbawalas operate on the Chanakya system of Sama-Dama-Danda-Bhed for the errant members. This ensures that the errant member stays within the system. Secondly, they are extremely particular about time and realize the value of every second in the value chain. So much so that when Prince Charles wanted to meet them, they gave him a precise time slot so that the thousands others would not have to skip their lunch

Pride towards their work The dabbawalas take their role as 'Annadatas' very seriously. For them, the delivery of tiffins is much beyond a job it means quelling the hunger that strikes the customer when lunch hour approaches. And so they move about their mission briskly with a smile, making sure they are never late. Complete Contentment There was an unseen halo of positive vibrations around the members who delivered the talk. The glow on their faces came from complete contentment with their lives. They seemed as if they possessed all the happiness and riches in life. 'Be contented in what you have' is the principle that governs their life. This is particularly surprising because the members earn not more than 5-6 thousand a month and lead a very hard life compared to most of us. Still there was not even an iota of stress on their faces quite contrary to many others who earn much more than them.