Each day throughout the city of Mumbai, India, 5000 individuals called dabbawalas deliver
some 130,000 dabbas (lunchboxes filled with home-cooked food) to offices throughout the metropolis. In the nearly 120 years of this service, Mumbai has changed enormously, becoming, India’s financial and commercial capital, housing some 10.5 million people. Yet the dabbawalas’ approach had remained consistent: a semi-literate work force (the dabbawalas) picked up the filled dabbas from the households that prepared them and delivered the boxes to the requisite offices; they then retrieved the empty dabbas from these delivery points and returned them to the originating households, in order to begin the process again the next day.
This case study describes the Mumbai-based Dabbawala organization, which achieves very high service performance (6 Sigma equivalent or better) with a low-cost and very simple operating system. The case explores all aspects of their system (mission, information management, material flows, human resource system, processes, etc.) and the challenges that the Dabbawala organization faces in a rapidly changing environment.
A Brief History
It all started because in 1885, a banker in Mumbai really loved his wife. The banker had to work far from home and so could not return home to eat the lunch prepared by his wife. He decided instead to hire a man to pick up the packed lunch from his home and have it delivered to his office. Others started imitating him. Then one day, Mahadev Haji Bache, a farmer from Pune, saw an opportunity and created a delivery business- this is how the Dabbawalas system was started.
In recent years, the dabbawala system began to generate worldwide news, attracting the attention of royalty like Britain’s Prince Charles, famous industrialists like Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group, and of executives from sophisticated delivery companies like FedEx. It motivated a plethora of books, TV documentaries, and articles. People interested in how the system worked trooped to Mumbai to chronicle the dabbawalas in action celebrating more than “supply chain efficiency”. The error rate of dabawallas is about 1 in 16 million.They believe in work is workship and their motto is 100% customer satisfaction.
This inspired us to study the Dabbawals of Mumbai.
Management Lessons learnt from the Mumbai Dabbawalas:
1 Build your organisation around people:
2 Commitment and attitude trump qualifications - Educate employees about the importance of what they do.Once they know they will make sure that errors are minimized and even in the absence of a code of conduct they will strive to deliver better results for their customers – internal or external.
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 - It is important to promote self discipline rather than discipline among your employees and don’t be shy when it comes to penalizing wayward behavior. Bad behavior gets imbibed faster remember no one taught you smoking but you picked it up just by looking at your friends.
8 Create a sense of ownership
9 Maintain a flat organisation - Various Hierarchies in the organisation can boost egos not the business.Let your people take their own decisions as far as possible.
10 Abandon bad customers - hard to admit but a reality of life.If you have bunch of bad customers who bring down your efficiency, dump bad customers before the good ones dump you.
- simplicity with innovative service
- coordination, team spirit
- Customer satisfaction
- Low Cost
- Depend on local trains
- Funds left for the organisation is very less.
- Customer satisfaction
- Low Cost
- Low operational cost
- Direct competition from other caterers
- Indirect competition from other food joints.
- Office canteens
The problem with the Mumbai dabbawals is their aversion towards technology. They have an English-language website which has successfully garnered media, corporate and academic interest, leading to speaking assignments and attracting small donations. But the site had not substantially increased the delivery service’s customer base because the inquiries received were passed on informally by word-of-mouth and there was no system in place to monitor whether an inquiry reached the appropriate dabbawalas and whether conversion to sales materialized. The “technology aversion” among most dabbawalas has compounded their challenges. A more cutting-edge approach to technology could help overcome the current limitations, but the organization is sceptical.
These could be summed up by a comment by the leader of the Dabbawalas recently made: “What can technology do when we don’t have even regular electricity supply? We are not educated so we don’t know how to use technology. Our philosophy is that serving food is like serving God. We should just focus on delivering dabbas.”
As mentioned earlier, the dabbawalas have very low error rate (about 1 in 16 million). Their delivery system was operational even during the floods/rain. One serious problem that the MTBS Association is facing is that the employees (dabbawalas) are quiting the organisation and opting for other empolyement means like taxi driving etc. This is mainly because of the low salary they are paid(about 3000-5000). Also the organisation is very particular about the employees they recruit.
To improve and develop the Dabbawala system, we propose the following changes in the organization.
1) Change Of Management Attitude
Management's attitude plays a huge role in employee motivation, over a period of time this translates into the culture of any organization. This has been the case with the Mumbai Dabbawalas as well. The top management of the Dabbawalas are reluctant to changes and has been traditional in its approach. This has hindered the growth of the organization into higher scales. At this juncture where the Dabbawalas have carved a niche for themselves in Mumbai as one of the most innovative service providers, the change management in the organization plays an important role.
The important changes that are required in the organization are
1 Strategic changes
2 Technological changes
In terms of strategy, the problem has been that the organization has always under valued its true potential. The organization can expand its operations to other metropolins in India because the working class still prefers home cooked food.
The aversion towards technology has been one of the reasons for Dabbawalas for not having grown in the scale as expected. They have an English-language website which has successfully garnered media, corporate and academic interest, leading to speaking assignments and attracting small donations. But the site had not substantially increased the delivery service’s customer base because the inquiries received were passed on informally by word-of-mouth and there was no system in place to monitor whether an inquiry reached the appropriate dabbawalas and whether conversion to sales materialized.
The Dabbawalas can encourage people to register online if they wish to use the dabbawala service. Such a step would increase their customer base and the employees may get more salary.
The organisation can introduce what is called as the SMS Updates system using many websites like www.Way2sms.com. Thus give the hungry customers, live updates of their tiffin/dabbas
Another major problem that the organization is facing is that many of the Dabbawalas are quitting their jobs for other jobs which pay more. Hence employee retention strategies are a key for the growth of this organization. Lessons have to be learnt from Organizational Behaviour concepts. The Employer must create a "win-win" situation. Valance and expectancy theories should be used as a guide to retain the employees.
Retention has a direct and causal relationship with employee needs and motivation. Applying a motivation theory model, such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, is an effective way of identifying effective retention protocol.