Mumbai Dabbawala: Management Lesson

On chilly morning of 26th Jan, Indian army was parading in front of Red Fort, reverberating disciplined synchronous strokes of legs hitting the ground along with chorus of slogans. All program being broadcasted around the nation. Jets and Fighter planes were moving across the sky. Such a dignitary event was witnessed by few peasants of Mumbai. Twelve people of Dabbawalas, have represented their team at Republic day celebration in with India’s President Pratibha Patil. They are uniquely found in special attire of Gandhi topi(cap), and cotton clothing, usually white colored.

Dabbawalas (lunchbox deliverymen) were invited to represent the Republic day march of this year in New Delhi as well as Mumbai. To know more about Dabbawalas. Most of workers in that team is illiterate( or left after primary education) . Each earn at about Rs. 4000 to 5000 per month ( $ 80 to 100 per months).

Prince Charles with Dabbawalas

Never ignore this team at alll! International Forbes magazine has lauded it with Six Sigma accuracy of 99.99 % precision. In 1998 survey of Forbes shows only one error in 6 millions of their transactions. Dabbawala’s organization has received ISO 9001 certif

ication in year 2000 for their service to nation. When England Prince Charles visited India, he had spent his day

time observing their work. He had also invited 2 dabbawalas to his wedding Party with Camila Parker. This group of people had wide global fans including virgin King, Richard Branson. So, such team is globally acclaimed for its time management and accuracy.

Richard branson with Dabbawalas
Richard branson with Dabbawalas

There are 5000 dabbawalas. Irrespective of morning weather they deliver home cooked food to about 200,000 people around Mumbai suburb. They are transported with cycle, local train or handcart. Every morning, they complete the work in exact 3 hours of time span.

Management Facts:

  • 1. Time management and accuracy: Even though customers are growing, they have color coding system, which ensures that every Tiffin goes to correct person. This meal on wheel system started from British Raj at 1850.
  • 2. Customer is King: They are not being thought in any business schools. They just know to serve the customer in best way.
  • 3. No technical support: They have not more technical or logistic support. They perform with almost 100% accuracy.
  • 4. Marketing and advertising: They have distributed their leaflets with Microsoft laptops in Mumbai, offering mini discount offer for food delivery.
  • 5. Management Presentations: They have ‘Bombay Tiffin Box Supply Charity Trust’ which represent the whole system. Some of them asked to give presentations in about their management skills.

During discussion session, One dabbawala Vasant Bacche, 35, packs food at churchgate expressed himself saying,” I don’t know about management schools. I can’t read and write. That’s why I’ve done this for 15 years.”
Customers in Mumbai tells that ,” they deserve to represent the Republic parade, as they are serving nations.”

7am-9am Tiffins collected from homes
9am-11am Board trains, sort boxes at intermediary stations according to delivery area (single tiffin can change hands three to four times)
11am-12pm Arrive Bombay, fan out to loading points, more sorting and loading on to handcarts, bicycles and persons
12.30pm-1pm Deliveries
2pm Process moves into reverse
6pm Empty tiffins returned to homes

Some more facts:
— Trust registered in 1968
— 35-40 tiffins per dabbawalla, each of 2kg
— Colour code denotes owner, work address and floor
— New dabbawalla’s minimum investment: two bicycles (4,000 rupees), wooden crate (500 rupees), white cotton kurta pyjama (600 rupees) and one Gandhi topi (20 rupees)
— A 20-member group has 675 customers and earns 100,000 rupees a month. Average individual monthly income 5,000-6,000 rupees minus 15 rupees contribution to the trust.
— There are only two female dabbawalas


5 thoughts on “Mumbai Dabbawala: Management Lesson

  1. Pingback: 2010 in review «
  2. While most of the Dabbas originate from homes, Tiffin suppliers also utilise the services of Dabbawalas to deliver meals to their customers. Over 200 Tiffin suppliers are listed in which is a portal for Tiffin services.

  3. The Dabbawalas services have gone bad to worse,

    A General survey & report says that 80% customers are absolutely not satisfied with them.

    The behavior of these dabbawalas are very abusive and enter the office premises in drunk condition.
    They use quiet abusive languages while talking on phone & delivering the tiffins.

    Every month the tiffins are damaged in transit, and the holiday list for these dabbawalas are unexpected and much more than bank holidays of any other corporates in the world.

    Dont know why media and international organisations have not focused on these areas.

    The Objective of every Service providers / organisations / Unions are Customer satisfaction, but this is cornered up.

    Sincere request to the media & other surveyors to interview their customers.

    1. Thank you for bringing up behind the scene reality.
      In any business or service quality is also major parameter for customer satisfaction.And all profit making businesses have to analyse customer needs.
      If the facts above are true, it will lead this organization towards downfall. The Babbawalas came into limelight due to thir quick delivery system.


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