While at NIT Trichy during their technology festival, I attended an invigorating, as also entertaining, talk from Manish Tripathi from the Mumbai Dabbawallas * . The Mumbai Dabbawallas deliver food every day from the home to the workplace and they do it with minimal technology, processes, or structure. They became world renowned as a six sigma organization, and were studied by Harvard University. Six sigma means less than 3.4 defects to a million opportunities, this implies out of every million lunch boxes that need to be reached from a million homes to their respective destinations in different offices in Mumbai, at most three could miss reaching the right desk at the right time. When we are dealing with lunch boxes, we must understand they must reach before lunch time, else there’s no value. And Mumbai traffic or rains will not be an acceptable excuse for delay.What did I learn about the Mumbai Dabbawallas that makes their service so reliable, that most companies would like to emulate?
First, some interesting aspects of their success, as I understood from Manish Tripathi in his own words:
1. They have not put any ads ever, as it “serves genuine needs of people”.
2. In any business there are two challenges: figure out how to solve a business problem for a large customer base; and how to get employees to serve the customer.
3. The boxes are color coded to ensure the code can be understood even by illiterate people.
4. All 5000 dabbawallas are shareholders of the system. 635 of them are senior employees, but there is no hierarchy. The revenue of rupees 50 crore is shared among the 5000 dabbawallas.
* Each dabbawala does 35 collections, 35 deliveries, and returns 35 empty tiffin boxes. Every team of 20-25 headed by group leader. The executive committee has five members.
* President also works as Dabbawala, travels with them, shares with them.
* They have not had a single “strike” in more than a hundred years.
5. All of them come from a single sect from remote villages around Mumbai, everyone has “same DNA”. Synergy and cooperation is very high as it is a “single DNA organization”.
Now some interesting management practices:
1. They have a few beliefs at work:
* work is worship
* serving people is serving God
* time is money
* unity is power
2. The Dabbawalas are descendants of warriors in army of Shivaji. Their new enemy is time – their goal is to reach the right dabba at the right time. The three hours of commute to the office is the “war time”.
3. One reason they are successful is they are “suitably” educated. Majority has not studied beyond class 8.
4. They have zero fuel, zero modern technology, zero investment, zero disputes, six nine (99.9999%) performance, and 100 percent customer satisfaction.
5. In any supply chain, collection of objects is first and most important step.
* If someone delays (giving the dabba on time) 3 times, “we stop serving them”.
* He mentioned the management learning – abandon bad customers. “Current recession started due to serving bad customers” !
6. Dabbawala minus discipline ‘is zero’. They must wear white cap in business hours, must report to duty on time, respect customers, and carry identification cards”
7. People know the consequences of their mistakes, i.e. how the customer suffers.
8. Instant decisions are taken on the spot. There’s a mini government meeting every month to help, guide, and to resolve differences
The lessons are simple and obvious!
Let me end with one interesting story – one large shipping company from Europe came to study their process, and traveled in the local train from Virar to Churchgate station to experience the action. Finally, they asked, how is it that with all our technology, we manage to lose large shipments, but here, with so simple process and technology, you achieve six-sigma. They responded, “Our commitment”.
* The “dabba” is a lunch box, and the dabbawalla is one who delivers the lunch box from home to office, at lunch time.