Here nobody is an employer and none are employees. Each dabbawala considers himself a shareholder and entrepreneur. Surprisingly MTBSA is a fairly recent entity: the service is believed to have started in the s but officially registered itself only in Growth in membership is organic and dependent on market conditions. This decentralized organisation assumed its current form in , the most recent date of restructuring. Dabbawalas are divided into sub-groups of fifteen to 25, each supervised by four Mukadams.
Experienced old-timers, the Mukadams are familiar with the colors and codings used in the complex logistics process. Their key responsibility is sorting tiffins but they play a critical role in resolving disputes; maintaining records of receipts and payments; acquiring new customers; and training junior dabbawalas on handling new customers on their first day.
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 the delivery end.
Each group is also responsible for day-to-day functioning. And, more important, there is no organizational structure, managerial layers or explicit control mechanisms. The rationale behind the business model is to push internal competitiveness, which means that the four Vile Parle groups vie with each other to acquire new customers.
They generally tend to be middle-class citizens who, for reasons of economy, hygiene, caste and dietary restrictions or simply because they prefer whole-some food from their kitchen, rely on the dabbawala to deliver a home cooked mid-day meal. New customers are generally acquired through referrals. Some are solicited by dabbawalas on railway platforms. Addresses are passed on to the dabbawala operating in the specific area, who then visits the customer to finalize arrangements.
Today customers can also log onto the website www. Service charges vary from Rs to Rs per tiffin per month, depending on location and collection time. Money is collected in the first week of every month and remitted to the mukadam on the first Sunday. He then divides the money equally among members of that group. It is assumed that one dabbawala can handle not more than customers given that each tiffin weighs around 2 kgs.
And this is the benchmark that every group tries to achieve. Typically, a twenty member group has customers and earns Rs , per month which is divided equally even if one dabbawala has 40 customers while another has Groups compete with each other, but members within a group do not. Its common sense, points out one dabbawala. One dabbawala could collect 40 tiffins in the same time that it takes another to collect From his earnings of between Rs 5, to Rs 6,, every dabbawala contributes Rs15 per month to the association.
The amount is utilized for the community's upliftment, loans and marriage halls at concessional rates. All problems are usually resolved by association officials whose ruling is binding. During these meetings, particular emphasis is paid to customer service.
If tiffin is lost or stolen, an investigation is promptly instituted. Customers are allowed to deduct costs from any dabbawala found guilty of such a charge.
If a customer complains of poor service, the association can shift the customer's account to another dabbawala. No dabbawala is allowed to undercut another. Before looking into internal disputes, the association charges a token Rs to ensure that only genuinely aggrieved members interested in a solution come to it with their problems, and the officials' time is not wasted on petty bickering. Turnover approx. At 19, persons per square kilometer, Mumbai is India's most densely populated city with a huge flow of traffic.
Because of this, lengthy commutes to workplaces are common, with many workers traveling by train. Instead of going home for lunch or paying for a meal in a caf, many office workers have a cooked meal sent by a caterer who delivers it to them as well, essentially cooking and delivering the meal in lunch boxes and then having the lunch boxes collected and re-sent the next day. The meal is cooked in the morning and sent in lunch boxes carried by dabbawalas, who have a complex association and hierarchy across the city How has MTBSA managed to survive through these tumultuous years?
The answer lies in a twin process that combines competitive collaboration between team members with a high level of technical efficiency in logistics management. It works like this The dabbas have some sort of distinguishing mark on them, such as a color or symbol most dabbawalas are illiterate.
The dabbawala then takes them to a designated sorting place, where he and other collecting dabbawalas sort and sometimes bundle the lunch boxes into groups.
The grouped boxes are put in the coaches of trains, with markings to identify the destination of the box usually there is a designated car for the boxes. The markings include the rail station to unload the boxes and the building address where the box has to be delivered. At each station, boxes are handed over to a local dabbawala. The meals are then delivered The empty boxes, after lunch, are again collected and sent back to the respective houses.
And now one can even order through the Internet. Now, lets see their daily time table for this whole process: am - This time period is actually the journey time. 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.
In particular areas with high density of customers, a special crate is dedicated to the area. This crate carries tiffins and is driven by dabbawalas! Usually, since it is more of a pleasant journey compared to the earlier part of the day, the dabbawalas lighten up the moment with merry making, joking around and singing.
The group meets up at origin station and they finally sort out the tiffins as per the origin area. Mumbai expanded. Western, Central and Harbour routes came into existence. The customer base expanded too.
Revised coding was done with paint. Existing coding system was developed in to ensure error free delivery mechanism. There are approx. Half the team collects dabbas from east side of the station and other half from west side of the station.
Each team is depicted by a specific colour. Each active dabbawala in a team, is numbered alphabetically as A, B, C, and depending area from where he collects Tiffin - i. The residence station e. Vile Parle is abbreviated as VLP on the top centre of the dabba. The destination station is represented numerically from 1, 2, 3 Within the reach of the destination station, sub sections are also represented numerically e.
The destination station is represented at the centre of the dabbas. All members of team gather at station at Likewise, the other team member will carry all the other dabbas for other destination, e.
For delivery, the coding has been carried out in different colour. The person who carries the dabbas is again given a specific numeric number e. The building and the floor at which the dabba is to be delivered is also abbreviated and listed next to delivery mans number. Dabba for Express Tower, 12th Floor, to be delivered by dabbawala No. The dabbas are delivered at respective destination at Each dabbawalas carries a marker pen, should in case the coding is washed out.
Each dabbawalas route for pick-up and delivery remains unchanged for at least 6 7 years. Name : Floor No. In the event of a dabbawala meeting with an accident en route, alternative arrangements are made to deliver the lunchboxes.
For example, in a group of 30 dabbawalas catering to an area, five people act as redundant members; it is these members who take on the responsibility of delivering the dabbas in case of any untoward happenings. The dabbawalas must be extremely disciplined.
Consuming alcohol while on duty attracts a fine of Rs 1, Unwarranted absenteeism is not tolerated and is treated with a similar fine. Every dabbawala gets a weekly off, usually on Sunday. The Gandhi cap serves as a potent symbol of identification in the crowded railway stations.
Not wearing the cap attracts a fine of Rs. In fact, Richard Branson, the maverick businessman who is never shy to promote him and the Virgin brand, donned a Gandhi topi and dhoti the dabbawalas' signature dress code , during the launch of Virgin's inaugural flights to Mumbai. Their work revolves around a few beliefs - the most important ones of which are sticking to time and believing that work is worship. The simple coding system is crucial given the extremely tight tolerances of airline operations.
Buffer capacity. Even with an efficient coding system, workers still have a tiny margin of error for certain tasks. The allotted time for picking up a dabba at a house, for example, might be only 30 to 60 seconds, and any number of small delays could easily have a cascading effect that slowed thousands of deliveries. So, to stay on schedule, each group has two or three extra workers who fill in wherever they are needed, and all members are cross-trained in different activities: collecting, sorting, transporting, finance, and customer relations.
Marriott Hotels takes a similar approach. The company claims that such cross-training enabled its Cancun hotel to return to business quickly after Hurricane Wilma swept through the region in At Toyota, the group and team leaders are also reserve workers, ready to fill in quickly for any task or function. They need just enough extra capacity to handle problems and emergencies but not so much that it bogs down the operation and becomes wasteful overhead.
Rigorous adherence to processes and standards. This minimizes variations that might throw a wrench into the works. The dabbas, for instance, are all roughly the same size and cylindrical shape.
To encourage customers to conform, containers incur an additional fee when, say, they are so large that they require special handling.
Unusual containers that interfere with the delivery operation are simply not accepted. This uniformity allows the dabbas to be packed quickly onto crates, which are also a standard size so that they can be efficiently loaded onto trains. The dabbawalas strictly observe certain rules. Workers are fined or fired for repeated mistakes and negligence. Customers are also expected to abide by the process. Of course, no process is bulletproof. Dealing with customers who are a few minutes late preparing their dabbas is one thing; handling a citywide disruption like a major traffic jam or a torrential monsoon is an entirely different matter.
Emotional bonds and a shared identity. Dabbawalas, who range in age from 18 to 65, tend to remain in their groups for their entire working lives. There is no mandatory retirement age. As a result members of each team care deeply for one another. In one group that I observed, an elderly worker who was no longer able to carry large loads of dabbas helped in other ways and was paid the same salary as everybody else. New workers are typically friends or relatives of existing members, and though Mumbai is a melting pot of religions, ethnicities, and dialects, most dabbawalas have the same culture, language, values, work ethic, diet, and religious beliefs.
Many come from the region around the city of Pune and can trace their roots back to warriors who fought in the 17th century for Chhatrapati Shivaji, the founder of the Maratha Empire in western India. While on the job, the dabbawalas wear the same style of clothes and white Gandhi caps, making them easy to identify.
A handful are women, who typically perform administrative functions or special services such as pickup or delivery at irregular times that command a higher fee. Research by scholars such as Amy Edmondson and Richard Hackman of Harvard has shown that familiarity, bonds, and psychological safety lead to lower error rates.
In an era when many companies strive for diversity in their workforce, its downside—less alignment—often is ignored. There are advantages to uniformity: It creates a strong identity and sets boundaries that are necessary in a highly variable environment. It is all about balance. A simple mission. Of course, corporations typically have much more heterogeneous workforces.
Strict timekeeping even extends to customers — if the full lunchbox is late for collection in the morning more than two or three times, they are dropped. Watch a dabbawala explain the unique code that gets each lunchbox to its destination.
Each dabbawala has a single collection and delivery area. At mid-morning they tour their neighbourhood on foot or by bicycle collecting an average of 30 dabbas. These are sorted at a local office or railway station and each dabbawala gets on a train with the dabbas heading for their delivery area. On arrival dabbas coming from all over the city are sorted again before being loaded onto bicycles and handcarts for the final leg.
The fame of the dabbawalas also gives the job a certain prestige. Many dabbawalas worship Vithala, a Hindu god who teaches that giving food is a great virtue And as a cooperative all dabbawalas are equal partners with supervisors called mukadams who are elected.
But there are also more profound reasons for their dedication. The dabbawalas belong almost exclusively to the Vakari community, which worships the Hindu god Vithala. Vithala teaches that giving food is one of the greatest donations you can make. Even so, as the convenience of app-based delivery services catches on, will the dabbawalas keep up? But he thinks any threat is some way off. The sector has yet to get going, he says. Part of the problem is that companies just assumed they could transplant business models from Silicon Valley to India.
Thereafter, they were taken by trains to the railway station of destination, where they were sorted again and dropped off to individual offices by lunchtime. Soon thereafter the entire process ran in reverse for returning the empty dabbas to their originating sites.
Within six hours each dabba had completed its return journey. A Typical Dabbawala Day Mr. Dadabhau had been delivering dabbas for 35 years. His daily schedule was typical of all dabbawalas in Mumbai. See Exhibit 5 for Mr. On a regular workday, Dadabhau, who lived in Mulund, a Mumbai suburb on the Central railway line, took the train to arrive at Kurla station, where he unlocked his bicycle and cycled 4 kilometers 2.
He had a fixed route and time schedule for collecting his roughly 30 dabbas, moving closer to the station with each collection of boxes. All his customers resided in apartments, as did the majority of people in Mumbai, regardless of income level. Some buildings had elevators and security guards at the gate; others featured only staircases.
Dadabhau parked his unlocked bicycle either at the building gate or on the road and did not worry about the safety of dabbas hung on his bicycle. Each customer knew the exact time he would arrive. At some places, the dabbas were packed and placed near the door of the home or outside the elevator before he arrived.
Once at Kurla station, Dadabhau deposited his dabbas alongside the 2, or so other lunch boxes collected by members of the other two groups operating in Kurla East and West, placing them on the sidewalk they commonly used for sorting.
He locked his bicycle and left it leaning against a wall near the station and began to assist his colleagues in unlocking a set of wooden crates which would house the dabbas on their journey to specific locations and laying them down on the sidewalk. Dadabhau, like the other dabbawalas, then moved around to examine the codes on the lids of dabbas discussed in the following section , picking out those that he would take with him for delivery to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus CST station, a key commercial area on the Central railway route in south Mumbai.
That was his delivery route. Meanwhile, one dabbawala who was in charge of delivering dabbas locally within the Kurla station area, to schoolchildren and a few storeowners, tied his local delivery dabbas on a bicycle and left.
The Dabbawala System: On-Time Delivery, Every Time this was happening, Dadabhau and his colleagues were filling the crates with dabbas headed for their destinations. He and five other members were in charge of three crates with about 40 dabbas each. Railway stations had no elevators, escalators, or ramps—only stairs to access the platforms.
For the dabbawalas, this meant that loading and unloading at stations usually occurred amid huge jostling for scarce space. At CST, Dadabhau joined the rest of the groups converging at the station and picked up the dabbas he was to deliver to areas in and around Ballard Estate, part of his delivery route. He identified his dabbas by the codes on the center of the lids and loaded them onto his bicycle to ride 1 kilometer 0.
Dabbawalas who serviced areas with a greater number of deliveries used handcarts. Dadabhau started deliveries beginning from the general post office closest to CST. After delivering the lunch boxes, Dadabhau and his colleagues returned to CST, ate their lunches packed in their own specially marked dabbas , and then began collecting the empty lunch boxes, starting with the offices farthest from the station.
Once the empty dabbas were back at CST, they were again sorted according to the codes indicating the station of origin.
This part of the journey was more relaxed because the dabbas were not as heavy, the trains were not as crowded, and the return delivery time was more flexible. Dadabhau and his colleagues, now gathered back at Kurla station, met with the other groups and picked up their dabbas from memory; Dadabhau knew the look and destination of all of his lunch boxes by heart. Similar models had been pioneered by airlines in the s and adopted by FedEx for overnight delivery in the s.
The dabbawala system had relied on such a distribution model since its inception nearly a century earlier. Thus, Dadabhau, like his colleagues, relied on the codes marked on dabbas to identify which ones he would carry to CST and then to Ballard Estate, as well as for returning back to Kurla and also participating in the sorting processes that were part of his work. The code on the lid of each dabba had three main symbols. First, the large and bold number in the center indicated the neighborhood where lunch boxes had to be delivered.
Each destination station served several neighborhoods. The dabbawalas knew the neighborhoods and the codes that fell under the purview of each destination station. Second, on the lid edge was a group of codes: a numerical code for the dabbawala who would make the delivery, followed by a two- or three-letter alphabetical code for the building name and a number indicating the floor where the dabba was to be delivered.
At times, customers requested their names painted on the lunch box if there were many lunch boxes delivered to the same floor. Third, another symbol on the lid edge—a combination of colors, motifs, or shapes—indicated the station of origin. Each group created its own symbol of color codes. For example, the Kurla East group had chosen a blue line on the edge of the lid, while the Thane group had chosen a red line plus the word Thane written in the local language of the region, Marathi.
At the end of the day, all lunch boxes ended up at their original railway station, where the dabbawalas would pick out their lunch boxes and return them to customers. At the local level, someone providing a dabba might not have her lunch box ready—for any number of reasons; there could be, as well, citywide disruptions. Thus, given the split-second precision of the system, a single delayed lunch box could result in a cascading effect that would impact thousands of dabba deliveries.
The dabbawalas had built in buffers by having two or three extra workers per group. All members were cross-trained in all activities e. Yet the pressure did build. For one thing, the number of vehicles in Mumbai had mushroomed, growing from 61, in to more than 1. Accompanying the increase in the number of vehicles throughout the city, roads were endlessly being dug up and potholes were omnipresent and endlessly being filled , which posed particular problems during monsoon season.
In consequence, dabbawalas often had to cover the same distance by running with their handcarts or by cycling faster. And with a bicycle loaded to full capacity of about 25 to 30 dabbas, slung across the handlebars or attached to the back carrier, maneuverability was also limited. The Dabbawala System: On-Time Delivery, Every Time wrong way into one-way streets, and often rode their bicycles on the sidewalk if there were sidewalks at all.
At the railway stations, to save time dabbawalas sometimes crossed the railway tracks instead of climbing up to the overhead bridge to get to the platform. Such actions were dangerous and at times generated fines. They may be terrorists and may have bombs in the lunch boxes.In the last few years, online food-delivery companies trying Map and Uber Eats have made available specially prepared case did to your desk seem like the height of app-based Ethyl benzoylacetate synthesis of dibenzalacetone. After a probation period of six months, they can buy into the planning with a sum equal to 10 times your expected monthly income. There are instances where the afternoon's hand got hurt or broken and those belongings pdf while demonstrating during study time. Threat of a new material product or service : As protagonists to home cooked food are not perceived as a viable social in the Indian scenario, the threat to the dabbawala canonical is not an issue at least in the avowed future. The markings include the rail consultation to unload the boxes and the central address where the box has to be bad.
The government never took notice of them before that.
The simple coding system is crucial given the extremely tight tolerances of airline operations. Soon thereafter the entire process ran in reverse for returning the empty dabbas to their originating sites. Dabbawalas literally tiffin box carriers in local parlance have finally started their own Web site and a text messaging order taking system that enables them to bag orders real time instead of depending on secondary sources like references or word-of-mouth. The bottom line, however, was that even if handset costs were covered through donations, the monthly bills for cell service remained unaffordable to most. Because of this, lengthy commutes to workplaces are common, with many workers traveling by train.
He uncovered a unique system with four pillars: organization, management, process, and culture. Even firms that can afford to hire stars typically depend on a cast of average people to support them. With handcarts and bicycles we have less tension, less investment, and no pollution. Cases are not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data, or illustrations of effective or ineffective management. The dabbawalas strictly observe certain rules.
According to them if you treat your customer like a god when you are with them, you will be so delighted, and the rewards will come to you.