Friday, 24 April 2015

India Facts (5): Mumbai Dabba Wallahs (FPFS Challenge)

Story of Mumbai's Dabba Wallahs
Image Source: https://worksthatwork.com/1/dabbawallas

Have you ever come across a manual system of delivery where over 200,000 tiffins are taken daily & delivered successfully? Doesn't seem like strange yet? No?...You will feel it now – consider there is no automated software or database, many deliverymen are not educated to read, and they all follow century old system of number & color pattern of identification. The system has been used for over a century and there’s only about one mistake per six million deliveries (In a 2002 analysis, Forbes Magazine found that it had a six-sigma, or 99.99% reliability rating) – I am sure you must be feeling butterflies in your stomach now. This is a small miracle of logistics. Mumbai’s 5000 dabba-wallahs (or food container persons - or tiffin wallahs) work tirelessly to deliver hot lunches to office workers throughout the city. 

In Mumbai, most office goers prefer home cooked food over market food due to hygienic,. taste & monetary reasons. The concept of Dabba-wallah is a great answer to this need. Every morning 100s of dabba-wallahs roam on their bicycles to different residential colonies.  They collect lunch boxes from homes of office workers, deliver the lunch to the workplace through this full proof delivery methods (either through their bicycles or local trains) and returns the empty lunch boxes back to the workers home in afternoon.  In number of cases, they also carry lunch boxes from different restaurants and deliver them to their designated address and then return the tiffins back to restaurant later. If you ask to make it more detailed then this is how it works:

1) Dabba wallahs collect tiffins from different areas and they all assemble at nearest railway station.

2) At assembly point, all tiffins are sorted out based on their century old system which works on certain numbers, area wise & color theme format. Keep in mind, this looks manual but super error proof.

Source: Google Images

3) From railway station(s), tiffins are traveled to the nearest point (which is the next railway station near to the specified destination) which covers the bunch of lunch boxes under that area.

4) From this point, different dabba wallahs get assignment of delivering set of lunch boxes to specified areas. 

Source: Google Images

5) Finally same process is followed while returning the tiffins back to the office workers homes.

In any business, the success depends on the quality of product or service it offers. In case of dabba-wallahs their uninterrupted service, timely delivery even in acute weather condition are unique selling points.


Source: Google Images

Their service is so reliable and secure that people used to communicate between home and work by putting message inside the lunch box. This concept is beautifully showcased in a movie: Lunchbox. I watched this movie during my flight from IGI to EWR. :)

International Acclaim:

-  The dabba-wallah business have got ISO 9001:2000 certified by the Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand

-  Prince Charles invited them to his wedding with Camilla Parker Bowles in London in April 2005. He also met with them during his India visit earlier.


-  It’s been featured in Harvard Business School case study : The Dabbawala System: On-Time Delivery, Every Time  where their methods are being compared to six sigma or even better. That too with an effective methods of delivery which is very simple, dirt cheap & moreover environment friendly.

We should be proud of this kind service which is unique of its own & entirely Indian - recognized Internationally. At the same time, we need to give credit to Western Railway for it's network across Mumbai geography connecting every part of the city.

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Hope you liked this post under India Facts Series. From last 5 days, I have tried to select different theme every time to show interesting facts of India. I connected this series (of India Facts) to Five photos Five stories Challenge (FPFS) which is- Post a picture for 5 consecutive days and attach a post to it. I have been tagged by my dear blogger friend Shweta Dave for this challenge. I would like to thank Shweta for selecting me. It's been an honor to get the nomination from her & I must say it was challenging for me to write for 5 consecutive days, but I enjoyed it as well.

Here I will take break for few days and then start with this series later some time. As per the rules, I have to tag a blogger friend to pass this challenge. So on 5th (& final) day, I will select Roohi Bhatnager who writes great stories on her blog. Hope she will like it.

17 comments:

  1. amazing story na Vishal... I used to use their services when during my corporate career.... brilliant work! Thanks for sharing their glory with the world.... :-) Cheers

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    1. Great.. so you have actually used their services. It's simply amazing how they use the secret manual system to deliver thousands of tiffins with such accuracy. Awesome!!

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  2. I read about them as part of a case study during my MBA...an example of great team work and leadership qualities from many of them. No wonder their accolades speak a lot about them.

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    1. Yes Alok. You are right. Many of their senior people have given lectures in different business schools.

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  3. Delivering on time to feed the entire city is by no means an easy job. Kudos to Mumbai dabbawallas, and thanks to you for writing and sharing the post.

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    1. Indeed it's not easy, salute to their spirit for delivering food on time no matter how difficult weather conditions are!

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  4. Vishal, there is one more fact about Mumbai's dabbawallas that rarely gets highlighted. They are simply but immaculately dressed in their traditional attire. They are from Pandharpur in Maharashtra. They are also extremely well mannered
    See http://www.livemint.com/Politics/I33mVv9dSoVTWPzm4wy2YN/Mumbais-dabbawalas-take-their-annual-break.html

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    1. You are absolutely right Lata. It's indeed warm feeling to see that they value their culture, follow their century old traditional customs. As you mentioned about their well manners - is also one of the reason they are so reliable and trusted brand.

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  5. Felt really proud reading this post on Mumbai Dabba Wallahs. How immaculately management skills and quality is being applied by them.
    Thanks for sharing this post.

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    1. Yes a perfect example of managing different resource efficiently, effectively with reliability - to cater volume of orders daily. Not only they deliver the tiffins to office, they also return it back to workers homes in afternoon. Great Job!

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  6. May their tribe flourish! Lots to learn from them.
    Great take on the theme.

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    1. I am not much sure if they tried it in other metro cities. If yes, then how was the response. Will be a good point to research!

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  7. You made me nostalgic, Vishal. I am really amazed by these people, who have defied even the best automated machinary system to serve the working people. I think it has been more than 125 years now. Really really great. They all deserve a big salutation!

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    1. Yes Abhijit, I personally feel really proud about their achievement and recognition they have got in India & abroad. This also give us a great learning about how a successful brand is built. If the right product/service served with reliable & super friendly customer support - that place your brand on user tongue. Once that happens - it's the best form of advertisement. The best thing I like about them is - pure Indian-ness.

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  8. Kudos to the Mumbai dabba wallahs! In a chaotic country like ours (in every sense - right from addresses being haphazardly allotted, to people being less organised), it's an all the more difficult task to pull off something like this with a Six Sigma level of efficacy and success! Great job on sharing their feat with the world. :)

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    1. Ami, you have also mentioned a very notable point about complicated address structures in India. If I am in 'A' block in some locality, then assuming 'B' is adjacent, is not entirely necessary here. This makes dabba-wallahs profession even more respectable as these guys are are on top of their job (being aware of complex addresses format of different localities not an easy thing). The tradition of knowledge transfer, their customs, tracking mechanisms passed from one generation to another generation and this is how its flourishing.

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  9. Very well written Vishal and the picture collection took the heart away. I plan to use the service. Dunno how.

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