The dabbawala system: on-time delivery every time


I wrote first article to explain something about Mumbai Dabbawalas here.

If you observe this system little  deeper, you will find that it is one open organization of tiffin packing labors, who have shown six sigma performance with very low cost and simple operating system.

Harvard Business School has published an analytical case study ‘The Dabbawala System: On-Time Delivery, Every Time.’ This case study has been debated in different perspective as one of the subject in curriculum in year 2010.

One Blog excerpt from  e-biz-ideas Blog.

Harvard’s case study on The Dabbawala System Would you imagine Harvard would do a case study on “how can an organisation with no technology,no sophisticated logistics management system,and people with little education achieve such high delivery performance-in a fast moving city that can be very chaotic?”
This study was introduced in early 2010 as part of HBS MBA curriculum.
The study is entitled”THE DABBAWALA SYSTEM;ON-TIME DELIVERY ,EVERY TIME”.

Thomke compiled the research at HBS India Research Centre over a 6month period travelling between Boston and Mumbai.He was working with research associate Mona Srivastava there.

The secret of the success in this 125 year old organisation with semi literate workers on bicycles is….’the way they hire,develop,manage and reward people.It is an organisation built around people,not around technology’.

10 management lessons from the dabbawalas

(dabba is a tiffin;dabbawalas:people who deliver the tiffins)

  1. Build your organisation around people
  2. Commitment and attitude trump qualifications
  3. Give employees a sense of purpose
  4. Stay true to your core purpose
  5. Recruit carefully
  6. Don’t be too lean,build in buffers
  7. Encourage self discipline
  8. Create a sense of ownership
  9. Maintain a flat organisation
  10. Abandon bad customers

Anyone thinking of starting a small biz with an eye to sustainable organic growth should be aware of this system. As per the report,Prince Charles is their ‘brand ambasssador ‘ because in 2003 he has even met them at their place of work at Western Railway Headquarters opposite Churchgate station in South Mumbai and received a white Gandhi cap .Richard Branson became a dabbawala for a day to launch Virgin Atlantic’s flights from Mumbai to London in 2005.

One HBS professor who has studied this system tells, “People with average skills and education can do extraordinary things. Perhaps there is a bigger lesson here. India has many people, but are all of them being used to their full potential?” These stories show in ordinary display of resourcefulness and ingenuity in the face of serious challenge.

It is observed that man shows highest performance in critical situations. Indian society with economic and cultural diversity if studied could help to improve the present management scenarios. Rather, it may provide many examples of unrevealed excellence. Management subjects taught in different B-Schools also include subjects like finance, risk management, sensitivity analysis, supply chains, organizational behavior. Undeveloped poor population also naturally tries  to follow the management principle for survival. Difficult situations and catastrophe and how human tries to fight it tell the story of human resilience and courage.

HBS is now taking much initiative to study real time Indian economics. Stefan H Thomke, HBS professor comes to poorest slum in Asia “Dharavi’ which is present in Mumbai.

Management 22 page case study by Stefan Thomke and Mona Sinha can be purchased here.

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