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Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION ................................................................................................................................ 8 HISTORY OF THE DABBAWALAS ............................................................................................. 9 THE NUTAN MUMBAI TIFFIN BOX SUPPLIERS CHARITY TRUST.................... 11 DABBAWALA NETWORK COVERAGE ................................................................................ 13 OPERATIONS PROFILE OF THE DABBAWALAS .............................................................. 14 STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE .............................................................................. 16 THE CODING SYSTEM................................................................................................................ 20 DISTRIBUTION STRATEGY IN DETAIL ............................................................................. 26 WORKING LOGIC OF THE DABBAWALA......................................................................... 38 SIX SIGMA AND THE DABBAWALAS ................................................................................. 39 CRITICAL SUCCESS FACTORS ................................................................................................ 41 ELEMENTS OF STRATEGY, GROWTH AND SUSTAINABILITY ............................. 46 UNIQUE FACTORS ........................................................................................................................ 49 MEETING THE DABBAWALA ................................................................................................. 51 QUESTIONNAIRE FOR DABBAWALAS ............................................................................... 52 BIBLIOGRAPHY .............................................................................................................................. 56

The Bombay Dabbawalas operation is widely recognized as an outstanding example of excellence in Logistics. It is often quoted as a standard example of six sigma implementation in the Indian context. Because of its popularity Prince Charles of the United Kingdom paid a visit to the operations site during his official visit to India in 2003. Bombay Dabbawala's Operations (BDO) is a home grown model, conceived, developed and perfected by a group of individuals who have very little or no formal education in the area of Logistics. BDO is operated by a group of 5000 individuals organized in the form of a cooperative, delivering everyday 150,000 lunch boxes from home to customer locations in Bombay with negligible error rate. BDO is recognized as an outstanding example of excellence in service delivery. BDO is the most talked about Indian example of excellence in logistics operations. Several academic institutions routinely invite the Bombay Dabbawala representatives to make formal presentations in their campus to complement and enhance their academic content of their respective programmes. Often, senior management meetings find it useful to have a presentation on BDO to illustrate the applicability of six sigma in Indian context and inspire managers to adopt and practice world class systems. The popular business press has been publishing material on BDO from time to time. The Forbes journal had an article on BDO. Recently the Alliance Air Official Inflight Magazine had an article on BDO. Top ranking management schools like Harvard Business School have documented BDO as case material for teaching purposes. Prince Charles of United Kingdom, as a mark of appreciation visited the Bombay Dabbawalas' work location during his visit to Bombay in 2003. The organization is really a marvel because it achieves a high level of efficiency and performance without any documentation, without computers and without an educational work force. Yet they are the ultimate practitioners of logistic management. They have been

practicing hub and spoke system, just-in-time tactics, no inventory policy and supply chain management principles even before these terms were even coined. Leaving thefts apart, these dabbawalas make a mistake only one every two months. I.e. one error in every 8 million deliveries, making it one of a kind Six Sigma supply chain in India. The six sigma principle was devised by Motorola for rating operational efficiency in terms of the number of errors that occur in a series of transactions or activities. In case of dabbawalas, one error occurs in every 6 million transactions!! This puts it at par with the likes of Motorola and G.E. such efficiency is marvelled by various organizations and institutions across the globe. Most organizations and enterprise would only aspire to be at this level of efficiency that the dabbawalas operate on The organization works on a Work is Worship philosophy, which is the traditional Indian practice. They respect food and therefore, there is no misuse of food, timely delivery is important because it is an individuals basic need for food at that time. The dabbawalas have never gone on a strike since they went into business! Thus, for all of the above reasons, the community of businessmen, workers, employees and students know the dabbawalas as their fuel suppliers. As it is popularly said in Mumbai, If the local train is the lifeline of the city then the dabbawalas are the food line. But there are a lot of aspects that need to be known about the dabbawalas, in order to find out why they are so important as a case study in management schools and as a unique traditional system of Indian management which has to be given its due recognition. Therefore, let us now take upon each of these aspects of this process.


The dabbawala service had begun informally in Mumbai. According to Raghunath Medge: A Parsi banker working in Ballad Pier employed a young man who came down from Poona district to fetch his lunch everyday. Business picked up through referrals and soon our pioneer dabba-carrying entrepreneur had to call for more helping hands from his village. Such was the origin of dabbawalas. However trivial the task may sound it is of vital importance since havoc is caused if the client has to skip his home-cooked meal or worse, carry his on dabba in theever so crowded Mumbai trains during the rush hour. By the early 20th century, people from all part of India were migrating to Mumbai in large numbers. Once they found a source of livelihood and settled down they wanted home cooked food at their workplace. Home-cooked food had a comfort level for various reasons. First, the food was cooked in the ambience of a domestic kitchen, with recipes that were tried and tested, and that resulted in familiar fare. Second, home-cooked food was comparatively inexpensive. The dabbawalas were initially charging two annas per dabba for their delivery service. Working independently and in small group for decades, the dabbawalas had united in 1954 to put together a rudimentary co-operative. This umbrella organization was officially registered in 1956 as a charitable trust under the name Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Charity Trust. At that time, some of the dabbawalas employed delivery boys to carry their dabbas and transport them along the routes on bicycles and push carts. These dabbawalas would collect the fees from their clients and pay the delivery boys whatever they could negotiate with them. This changed in 1983 when the trust adopted anowner-partner system. Under this new system, the practice of subcontracting was dispensed with and dabbawalas started to receive equal earnings. The delivery boys system was converting into an


apprenticeship system wherein new recruits were trained for at least two to three years on a fixed remuneration before they became full time dabbawalas. By 2012, more than 5,000 dabbawalas worked under aegis of the trust. Together they delivered about 200,000 lunches daily in Mumbai. They served a total area that covered approximately Rs 380 million per annum. Given the two way route for each dabba, the number of deliveries worked out to more than 350,000 per day. Despite the sheer number of daily deliveries, the failure rate reported by the media numbered one in two months, or one in every 15 million deliveries


The Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association is a streamlined 120-year-old organization with 4,500 semi-literate members providing a quality door-to-door service to a large and loyal customer base.The Trust was responsible for managing the overall meal delivery system. it worked in close co-ordination with the Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association, a forum that provided opportunities for social interactions among the dabbawalas and the Dakkhan Mavle Sahakari Patpedhi, a credit union that catered to the financial needs of individual dabbawalas by providing personal loans. Given its charitable trust status, the Trust was also involved in community initiatives by providing free food and accommodation to lowincome families at some pilgrimages centers. The Trust had a three-tier structure Executive Committee, Mukadams and dabbawalas. Under this structure, the basic operating unit was the team. Each team, which comprised between five and eight dabbawalas, was headed by a Mukadam. Having risen from the ranks of the dabbawalas, a Mukadams primary daily responsibility involved the sorting of the

dabbas. However as team leader the Mukadam performed several administrative tasks that included maintaining records of client payments, arbitrating disputes between dabbawalas and customers, and apprentice training. The Mukadam was also in charge of acquiring new clients for the team and managing customer satisfaction. New customers purchased their dabbas from the dabbawalas when service was commenced. Dabbas were typically replaced at cost to the customer once every two years. Seven to eight Mukadams aggregated their efforts and constituted a profit centre, eachprofit centre was referred to as a group. There were about 120 groups in total. While each group was managed autonomously, its members stepped in without hesitation to help other groups in dealing with emergencies such as dabbawala absenteeism. Monthly group maintenance costs totalled Rs.35000/, covering the maintenance of the bicycles, push carts and wooden boxes the dabbawalas used in their daily deliveries. The 13 members of the Executive Committee, which was elected by the general body every 5 years, coordinated the activities of the various work groups. The Committee, which undertook all major decisions for the trust and worked on the principles specified in the Cooperative Societies Act, met on the 15th of each month. Operational issues typically dominated each meetings agenda. Examples of such issues included disputes with the Mumbai city railways over dabbawalas not carrying their monthl passes or the ID issued to them by the Trust, and with the city police when dabbawalas parked their push carts or bicycles where parking was not permitted. Annually there were few reports of lost or stolen dabbas. In such instances clients were reimbursed by the individual dabbawalas or given a free dabba.



The dabbawala network operates so efficiently and punctually owing to one simple reason The Railways. The local trains of Mumbai city cover approximately 60-70 kilometres. This distance is covered by hundreds of trains that operate at a frequency of a train departing every three minutes. This feature of the local trains leads to over 90% the city's population depending upon this mode of transport. A local train is rarely ever delayed in its journey, thus, it enables millions of commuters to be punctual in reaching their offices and homes everyday and in all conditions, and this is the main reason why the dabbawalas actually operate in this city and not any other. In order to deliver over 2,00,000 tiffins everyday, the dabbawalas can rely only on this mode of transport, A person can reach from one end of the city (Mira Road) to the other end (Churchgate) in just under an hour and a half! Thus, it is rightly said that if the dabbawalas are the foodline of the city of Mumbai, then the local trains are the lifelines of the city. The entire dabbawala system works on a military discipline based on a shared agenda and a common protocol. The workforce is not even basically educated and there is no paperwork involved. The two essences are the LOCAL TRAIN and INFORMATION, The system is information rich in nature, the coding system enables all the 'magic' with which all dabbawalas function, Again, it is Centralized planning and decentralized implementation. The dabbawalas are spread over the entire city and hence, all three lines of the local train are utilized by them, Western, Central and Harbour Lines. The main stations include Dombivili, Andheri, Dadar, Kurla, Grant Road, Churchgate and C.S.T. these are also the major sorting areas for the dabbawalas.

Each station may have approximately 4-8 groups depending on the density of population and demand. E.G. there can be 15-20 groups at Churchgate and just 5-6 groups at stations like Khar and Vile Parle.

The various modes of transport that can be used by the dabbawalas in their whole network will mainly include trains, bicycles, handcarts and of course, on foot,

Time is the principle factor in this system. If there is any delay of even a few minutes, the train will be missed by the dabbawalas and the system will be disrupted because of him. Hence, planning for contingency is also very important on part of the dabbawala. Punctuality is therefore of prime Importance. Rarely has it been that the Tiffin doesn't reach the owner's desk at lunchtime.

The city's geographical pattern helps. Most of Mumbai's Office-goers live in the suburbs and work downtown and there arc local trains connecting two, points - which form hubs for hub-and-spoke sub-networks. Each Tiffin is at least handled by 4-5 different dabbawalas in the entire process


BDO operations is confined to Bombay, the commercial capital of India. BDO services include collection, transportation and delivery of lunch boxes from home to office location in the morning. In the evening the (empty) lunch boxes are moved in the reverse direction. This service is aimed at the middle income group families, small traders and owner managers. BDO operates 25 days a month, with a one week pre announced holiday in a year.


The need for BDO service is driven by clear preference to home food by its customers. Many target customers find food available in their work area as not suitable for their life style. Often, they find it expensive too. In addition, a typical BDO customer commutes about 100 kms a day between his home and work place. They usually leave their home early morning to work. At such a time, lunch may not be ready. The BDO service is priced at Rs. 500 per lunch box per month (was Rs.150-300 till recently). Depending on specific customer requirements customized offering (large lunch box, special diet requirements etc. are charged differently. Most commercial establishments are situated in South Bombay. The middle income residential areas are in North Bombay. Accordingly the lunch box traffic movement is predominantly uni-directional (North to South in the morning and vice versa in the evening). BDO started its operation with a modest beginning in 1890 by a group of people (same ethnic background) from Pune to support their livelihood in Bombay. The system has been operational for (about) 120 years without any interruption. As of 2012, BDO handled 400,000 transactions a day (200,000 boxes), employed 5000 people and earned Rs. 360 million every year. BDO reported less than six errors in 13 million transactions. They work for six days a week. There is no disruption to work (as long as the Bombay Sub-urban rail network is functional). BDO not only provides clean home food but it also delivers it safe against theft and pilferage.



BDO is organized as a co-operative movement. The basic entity is a Dabbawala. A set of Dabbawala's would form a team. Several teams would form a group. Several groups (120) constitute the entire organization. The BDO is designed to collect, transport and distribute lunch boxes to its customer routinely (every day) for 25 (working) days in a month. The specific details are described below. The fundamental unit of organization is a Dabbawala. There are 5000 of them in the system. Each Dabbawala is assigned (a set of) upto 30 customers in a specific geographical area. Each Dabbawala visits a pre-assigned and fixed route and carries the lunch boxes and brings it on his head to the nearest railway station. Their primary job is to visit the pre-assigned set of household under their area of operation. Usually this visit is made between 8.30 and 9.00 a.m. in the morning. Each Dabbawala is in-charge of about 30 lunch boxes. They either walk or travel on bicycle to collect the lunch boxes. The household is expected to keep the lunch box ready when the Dabbawala reports for collection. For some reason, if the lunch box is not ready, the Dabbawala would leave for the next destination. After collecting approximately 30 such lunch boxes, the lunch boxes are brought to the nearest sub-urban railway station for sorting and onward transportation. Upto 8 Dabbawalas are organized as a team. Usually, more than one team operates out of a collection railway station. Upto 8 teams form a group. There are 120 groups in the system. The groups are responsible for entire operations (customer care, quality, complaint management, manpower recruitment, compensation, discipline, scheduling of work, collection,


accounts receivables and revenue management). The teams are responsible for operational execution.

At the originating railway station a team of designated Dabbawalas would sort the lunch boxes according to their destination. The sorting process is facilitated by a detailed and elaborate codification system. (The details of the codification would be described later). The essence of the codification system is it clearly identifies the origin of the lunch box, the associated collection team member, the destination, the corresponding delivery team member, at the delivery location, destination, location building identification and floor number. Based on codes assigned to individual boxes, they are sorted for a origin to hub transfer by using the Bombay metropolitan rail network. At the destination a group of members would receive the Lunch box, resort the lunch boxes based on destination (building, floor and


location). Subsequently, the assigned members would move the lunch boxes to the respective location physically and leave the lunch boxes at the appropriate consumer location or floor. The lunch boxes are accompanied by team members from collection location to final destination. As the train moves towards central Bombay more and more lunch boxes and team members join the journey. The origin-hub transfer is facilitated by greater frequency of sub-urban trains (one in a minute). The lunch boxes arrive at destination railway stations by 11.30 a.m. The subsequent delivery is completed before 1.00 p.m. After the delivery the members hang around (gossip, play card, rest, eat their own lunch) in public parks in central Bombay near the destination areas. By 3.30 p.m. they return to the offices and buildings where they left the boxes and collect the empty boxes for their return journey. Between 12.30 p.m. and 3.30 p.m, the customers reach their lunch boxes left in their respective floor, eat their lunch and return the empty box to the location from where it was collected by them. All the empty lunch boxes are assembled at the destination railway location, resorted to the respective origin location, placed on standard carts and transferred to the respective hub or individual stations by the designated members. The carts are unloaded at the appropriate (Bombay) sub-urban train station and taken to the individual households by the same member who collected them in the morning. After this transaction, the member's responsibility is over and he retires for the day. The members of BDO should be capable for carrying a load of 100 kgs. manually on their head and walk 2.5 kms. effortlessly. The work hours are between 8.30 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. with an appropriate rest period of 21/2 hours. They travel in the train along with lunch boxes


every day. Each member would have a railway pass which allows him to make unlimited number of trips on designated routes. The sorting and loading operations need care and they are time bound. They are carried out in areas which are public places. These locations are usually congested. The origin-hub transfer normally happens in designated carts. These carts are loaded in pre-determined compartments in the beginning or at the end of the train.



The suburbs kept going further and the patrons list kept getting longer. More and more carriers were pressed into service and soon, there was a clash in functioning styles of various groups. The number of tiffins increased for the dabbawalas as the days passed on. As every Tiffin box had to be carried to and fro mapping each box to its carrier was crucial or else it would lead to chaos. For this the dabbawalas started tying strings or wires or threads to their boxes. But soon these methods were inadequate as the number of tiffins grew exceptionally. Thus the need for a new form of coding came up, which could be understood by the illiterate dabbawalas and was inexpensive. Hence, in the 1970s a senior member in Raghunath Medges family decided to implement a new system where all the box codes and markings were uniform for the dabbawalas. This system would cater to any number of tiffins no matter the growth in additions. This was an ingenious creation. It served as a common code for the dabbawalas which was easy to decipher. That was the most important thing to remember while creating the codes. The Dabbawalas, being illiterate should be able to understand it and explain it with ease to new comers and outsiders. This coding system eventually stood the test of time and proved extensible. With coding in place, there was enough scope to factor in new developments like adding new dabbawalas or new office blocks or new sources and destinations. The new system depends on common protocols, a typical Indian approach to versatile distribution


Each tiff in containing the food has, number of codes in alphabets and numbers on its top which identify the following: The code allotted to each dabbawala in a group that picks up the Tiffin form a particular area or suburb. The code of the origin station, which is usually one of the suburbs on western, central or harbour lines. The code for destination, which is Churchgate, CST or any other commercial area. The code of the dabbawala in the destination area who handles the Tiffin there The code for the location or office building in the destination area The floor or the room in that building


Besides these that are displays on the top of the dabba there is also a difference in the colour of paints or chalk that they use to write the codes. Different groups will have different colour cod written on the top of the dabba so that the Tiffin belonging to a group remains distinct. This is necessary because there is usually more than just one group present at each station. The destination codes will be the same for all groups at the same station. This makes it difficult to distinguish their tiffins, so the simplest way of bringing the distinctions that is required is by coding with different colours. This is a simple and easy way of differentiating the codes which is also easy to understand for the illiterate dabbawalas. The maximum number of colour used in this system is 7. Incidentally each group of dabbawalas must also carry coloured pencils or chalks so that they can write the codes if they have been erased or are difficult to interpret. Obviously, each and every dabbawala must know the coding system very well and must also know all the dabbas in his group with respect to the origin and destination. Let, us know look at a few examples of these codes on the tiffins to better understand the system and what it all denotes


We can now separate each element that is written on the Tiffin cover or top for understanding what it means. Let us follow the pattern anti-clockwise:VP The first thing on the Tiffin is the code for the originating station. This is the station from where the dabbawala picks up the Tiffin in the morning. In this case, VP denotes Vile Parle. The area under this station will include Juhu and also J.V.P.D scheme since this is the only station, which is nearest. Even if the dabbawala goes to the most interior parts like in Juhu, it will not be mentioned in the coding simply because the dabbawalas are just concerned about the respective railway stations. E This is the code for the dabbawala who is picking up the Tiffin from its origin or home. In this case, the dabbawala with the code of E will be a part of the group distinguished by the colour code RED. In many instances, the code will be the initial of the name of the dabbawala. This is one of the elements that can be changed during the course of time if the dabbawala for that particular customer changes. 3 This is the code for the destination area. This may not necessarily be restricted to astation only. For instance, the Churchgate is allotted number codes from 1-10. Number 11 is allotted to marine lines, 12 to Charni road and so on. In this example, the number 3 is allotted to the area between flora fountain and cross Maidan area. Other prime locations would include Nariman Point, stock exchange, Ballard pier, RBI etc. 9 This is the code number for the dabbawala who delivers the Tiffin to the destination office from Churchgate station. This is the dabbawala who is responsible for delivering it to the respective office and picking it up after the lunch hours. He is a part of another group from the one he worked with at the originating station. Thus, in most cases, each dabbawala will be a part of more than one group for sure, one at the origin and one at the destination.

AI - This code denotes the exact location or more likely, the buildings initial in the area that falls under Churchgate station. In this case, it is Air India building. AI being the initial for the building is unique and therefore, creates no confusion whatsoever for the dabbawalas. Office buildings around southern Mumbai are very popular and hence, easy to comprehend when given in codes. Other examples would be M for Mittal Towers,R for RBI, MC for Maker Chambers and so on. 12 finally, the last code among the three codes that form the right side of the top of the dabba is the floor on the building (Air India) or the room number in case of buildings with large number of rooms on each floor. Such an example would be Stock Exchange, RBI and BMC etc.

Let us take a second example with different locations so we can exactly figure out how to comprehend the coding system. GH This again denotes the originating station code, which in this case is Ghatkoper that is central line suburb. A dabbawala will not usually work in two different groups or switch groups based in central region to Western suburbs. Of course, a dabbawala, in all possibility can pick up Tiffin from a central suburb but deliver it to an office based in the western lines and vice versa. In this case, the origin is from a central suburb that is Ghatkopar. D- In this case, the dabbawala, who picks up the Tiffin from Ghatkopar area and assembles with this group at the station, has a code D as mentioned earlier, this could be his initial or a random allotment. 13 This code is for the destination station and in this case, it represents Grant Road. This being a smaller station as per the area it encompasses, requires just one number for


its designation. Churchgate and C.S.T are the only ones that have so many numbers based on locations under them. 2 The first part of the right side codes is the code of the dabbawala at the destination station. In this case, it is the dabbawala with code 2 who is responsible for delivering it to the respective office and picking it up after the lunch hours. P - This code denotes the exact location or more likely, the buildings initial in the area that falls under Grant Road station. P stands for the Panchratna, which is among the most famous buildings in south Bombay as it is home to one of the largest diamond makers offices in the country. It is an old building and the dabbawalas have been providing services over here ever since the city became a diamond exporter and trading hub. 9 finally, the last code among the three codes that form the right side of the top of the dabba is the floor on the building (Panchratna) or the room number.

Therefore, we can link the coding system and its function in the entire network process with fine example by taking the network process of the second example of the coding system: The sorting takes place at Ghatkopar station and the tiffins collected from the clients residences is kept with boxes that are bound for grant road station. This way it is easier to offload them and dispatch them to the respective dabbawala who is responsible for deliveries at grant road. At grant road station, the carrier whose number is 2, picks up all the boxes that are marked for him and proceeds. At Panchratna, he leaves the tiffins outside the lifts or outsides the office on the 9th floor. During the lunch time, the client fetches the tiffins completes his


lunch and puts the empty tiffins back to the same place so that dabbawala can collect it easily .The return journey follows the same route back.


ONWARD JOURNEY 8:30- 10:34 am The day for the dabbawalas starts at 8:30 am, with collecting the dabbas from the various houses. People usually leave the dabbas outside the door for them. In case they are


late the dabbawalas have to urge them to hurry up, else if it gets late they have to leave if the clients Tiffin is not ready in time. He then picks up all the tiffins and meets the other dabbawalas at the station [The dabbawala is forced to do so because he is bound by the train time. The departing trains time is very crucial and he must consider the time required for the sorting process. There may, on the other hand, be further delays caused by other customers too. It is extremely difficult, yet crucial to ensure that the entire pick up of all tiffins takes place as per schedule. The scheduling has to include cushion time for uncertainties such as these without which the whole system will, be disrupted] The dabbawala picks up the Tiffin from his lot of houses in Santacruz and meets the other group members at the designated spot at the station. This particular group of 10 dabbawalas takes the 10:34 am Churchgate local train everyday. Therefore, the dabbawalas have to make sure that they reach the platform for the sorting process at least by 10:15 am in order to ensure a smooth flow of their networking throughout their daily routine, this period in the morning that includes picking up the Tiffins and meeting at the designated spot on the station is the most crucial part of the system. One bit delay in this aspect will disrupt the whole system and will lead to a chaotic situation. Therefore, the dabbawalas have to collect the tiffins n time and reach the station with enough time left for the sorting to take place before the train arrives.

SORTING - 10:15 10:34 am The critical phase of the system is sorting. Sorting of all the tiffins according to their destination station and arranging them into wooden crates takes 20-25 minutes! The aim of the process is to segregate the tiffins and differentiate them as per the destination of each of them.

The tiffins are then handed to different dabbawalas at the destinationstation and sorting makes it easier to identify each group of tiffins and less time consuming for the respective dabbawala. The sorting makes the entire process error free. The process of sorting is similar to that of a post office where letters are segregated according to their destinations. Since each Tiffin exchanges many hands, each of the lids of the tiffins is marked with a colored code indicating the originating station, destinationand building with the floor number. The coding is the secret behind the efficient working of the system and thats why the network is Information rich. This is a unique feature as it requires no documentation or record keeping. There is no communication between the 2 groups, but just coordination among them because the whole blueprint is pre-decided by the dabbawalas themselves The Mukadam plays a key role here to ensure smooth working and coordination, his responsibility is to know all the tiffins his group carries. The responsibility of the Mukadam is to the extent that he has to know all the tiffins that his group carries. Therefore, he must be able to recognize these Tiffins even if the codes on them arebarely visible. Also, if any member of the group abstains from his duty for a particularday for some reason, then it is the responsibility of the Mukadam to ensure that all the dabbas that the absentee was responsible for, are duly picked up and delivered back on time. Hence, we see that the Mukadam plays a critical role in this stage of sorting and allocating jobs The dabbas are collected, sorted out and sent to their destinations based on a numerical and alphabetical code. Every station has a numerical code and each place has an alphabetical code. The Tiffin carries the code of the source and the destination. The codes help identify Tiffin owners. Very simple system of sorting exists with this Dabbawala Network. Every Tiffin-carrier has the mark of a circle or a flower of a specific colour and a digital identity number. Take this Tiffin Mark for example-K-BO-10-19/A/15. K is the identity letter of the dabbawala. BO means Borivali i.e. the area from where the Tiffin is to be collected... The

figure of 10 refers to Nariman point area. 19/A/15 refers to the 19th Building and the 15th floor in Nariman point area where the Tiffin is to be delivered.

JOURNEY TIME 10:34 to 11:20 am The time period between 10:34 and 11:20 is the journey time for the dabbawalas. They load the wooden cart filled with tiffins into the luggage or goods compartment of the train. Generally they try to occupy the last compartment as this helps them to avoid the rush at the platforms and is easy to be located and conveniently situated once the trainarrives on the platform. Mostly the commuters dont get on this compartment as they are already filled with crates and there is not enough room. This is a common understanding among daily commuters and dabbawalas. In any case the platform is filled with people and dabbawalas have to unload the crates on the platform, they start a series of loud verbal comments warning everyone to make way of the unloading. The unloading of this particular group takes place at Dadar, Lower Parel, Grant road and finally Churchgate etc. finally just six out of total 10 dabbawalas get off at Churchgate. There are also others joining into the group from the station as they have common destination points. The allocation of manpower at each station depends on the number of tiffins that have to be delivered in a particular area. E.g. if 150 tiffins are to be delivered in Grant Road, 4people are assigned to the station. This is done in keeping in the mind that one person cannot carry more than 35 dabbas. They will also be assigned specific codes which are written on the top of the Tiffin. This 4 dabbawalas can be from any groups and irrespective of any station. Their job is now to deliver these 150 Tiffins irrespective of which group they belong to. If the number of Tiffins that are to be delivered in an areas like Nariman point, is large then the number of people allocated goes up. Within that area, if one location lets say, Mittal towers,

has a huge number of Tiffins have to be delivered then this area number of the location number remains the same and tiffins are differentiated on basis of colour.

SORTING AT THE DESTINATION STATION AND DELIVERING - 11:20 to 12:30 am At this stage the unloading takes place at Churchgate and our destination station. In our example in it will be Churchgate. Here, the rearrangement Of Tiffins takes place as per the destination area and destination building in Churchgate. Dabbawalas have to be dispatched accordingly and the dabbas are to be delivered in large quantities at times to areas like Nariman Point, RBI and Stock Exchange. If the number of Tiffins that are to be delivered in an area like Nariman Point (Which is very large considering the density of offices), then the number of dabbawalas to be allotted to the area increases. Now, within that area, if one location, like, Mittal Towers has a huge number of Tiffins to be delivered then this area of number or location number remains the same and the dabbas have to be differentiated according to the basis of colour. To sum up the delivery process at the destination centers, each dabbawala looks for a particular three character code written on right hand side of the cap of the Tiffin. The dabbawala concentrates only on the dabbas that he has to deliver from Churchgate. He may not have in most cases, picked up his Tiffins from the originating stations; he has been allotted these dabbas only at Churchgate. This kind of specialization makes the entire system efficient and error free. The entire sorting process takes place outside Churchgate station or in the lanes around the station. Here, different groups arrange their dabbas in order of their destination areasand buildings. The main area around Churchgate includes Nariman point, RBI, StockExchange, Ballard Pier, and world trade center. There are around thirty groups itself at Churchgate station dispatching their respective tiffins in the area. In particular area with high density of customers

a special crate is dedicated to that area. This crate carries 150 Tiffins and is driven by 3-4 dabbawalas A unique feature of the system is that bigger buildings with large office densities, like in Nariman point, or the stock exchange building itself, an elevator is especially reserved for the dabbawalas during the lunch time. Usually these elevators have queues throughout the day as the offices are extremely busy and hence, in order to provide convenience and quick delivery without queues. The dabbawalas have a special elevator reserved for themselves onto which others cannot board. In some cases, they also leave the Tiffins in the canteen that is common to the whole building and hence the respective owners can simply pick up theirs. This is also a feature seen in schools where the dabbawalas deliver. In other cases, like at Mittal Cambers the dabbawalas leave the Tiffins outside the respective offices. The peon comes and gives them to the respective clients in their offices. Incidentally, even the peons are good at recognizing the Tiffins as to whom they belong to. So, in this process, the dabbawalas save a lot of time by cutting short the delivery process. Thereafter, the dabbawalas take a break and have their own lunch which is usually their Tiffins kept along with the others in the crate with special markings. Different groups have their lunch at different locations. It is generally on the footpath or some benches on the roadside. This break is usually of 45-60 minutes in duration. Till then, the customers must finish having their lunch and keep the dabbas outside for the dabbawala to collect.

COLLECTION PROCESS - 1:15 to 2:00 pm Here on begins the collection process where the dabbawala have to pick up the Tiffins from the offices where they had delivered almost an hour ago. The dabbawalas are the same in


this case. The one who delivers it to the office will be the same one who collects it. Most of the time, the dabbawala will collect al dabbas from all the offices situated on the same floor and will leave them in the corridor. Then, he goes and collects all dabbas from various floors and gets them to the base level. Finally, he loads them onto the crate. This is actually the only risky point in the entire network system. This is because there is a risk of theft when the dabbawala leaves the Tiffins outside the corridor. The only solution to this is, to have another dabbawala securing the dabbas while the other one goes and collects the remaining. This is related to a personal experience and hence amention of this incident is critical in analyzing the mechanism of the system. By complaints and suggestions from customers, the dabbawalas can actually bring some improvements in the system such as the one mentioned. A dabbawala who can secure the procured Tiffins can greatly help in reducing thefts.

RETURN JOURNEY 2:00 to 2:30 pm After the collection is over, the dabbawalas meet the remaining group members at a designated spot and the first assortment on the return journey takes place. The groupmembers meet with their respective crates and the segregation as per the destinationsuburbs takes place. The group departs for the station and all groups meet there for a common sorting process. The crates are arranged in a line and each dabbawala picks up the tiffins that belong to his group at the destination centre (the originating centre). This is not the final sorting and therefore, the individual members of the destination group have to just identify the boxes and put them into the crates.


One important thing to note is that a particular dabbawala need not operate in the same group throughout the day. He will, in most cases operate with 2 different groups. One at the originating station (Santacruz) and one at the destination station (Churchgate). Thecoordination is equally important in either groups and there is total unity among them. After sorting in various crates they depart in their respective train, which again are predecided and is part of their daily routine. This part of the journey is more relaxed as they are not under the pressure of timely delivery as in the mornings. They lighten up the moment by joking around and singing, which eases their stress and develops a strong bond in the group.

TRAIN JOURNEY 2:48 - 3:30 pm This again, is the return journey by train where the group finally meets up after the days routine of dispatching and collecting from various destination offices. The group members from Marine Lines, Grant Road and Dadar board the designated compartments and finally, they arrive at Santacruz station with the same dabbas that they had started off with in the morning. Usually, since it is more of a pleasant journey compared to the earlier part of the day, the dabbawalas lighten up the moment by merry making, joking around and singing, whicheases their stress and develops a strong bond among the group. Of course, other passengers also join them in the merry making at times and hence, these dabbawalas have created an impression upon other passengers of being hard working, dedicated and joyous people.


THE FINAL JOURNEY OF THE DAY 3:30 to 4:00 pm This is the stage where the final sorting and dispatch takes place. The group meets up at Santacruz station and they finally sort out the Tiffins as per the destination area. This is the easiest process because of the limited quantity of tiffins that gets off the trains with them; it is simpler to understand which Tiffin belongs to whom. The dabbawalas take out the respective tiffins from the crates and either carry 10-15 of them physically on themselves or load them onto the crates till they reach their cycles. Then each of them departs on their way with the same dabbas that he took in the morning and delivers them to their respective houses. This delivery process takes roughly 30-45 minutes depending on the distance that the dabbawala will have to cover. Thus, the entire network system ends with the delivery of the tiffins back to the customers origin point at the precise time everyday. The customer is satisfied with timely delivery of home food and the dabba back to the origin. There is still one more important and unique aspect to this system and that is the individual dabbawala. This dabbawala doesnt operate in any group. He picks up the dabba himself in the morning and travels himself in the morning and travels to the various destinations himself delivering them to the destination offices, collects them again and delivers them back to the origination home. This is a rare case but it is a laudable effort that the dabbawala puts in just to earn a meagre livelihood. A real example of this kind of a dabbawala can be cited here. This particular dabbawala travels from Ghatkoper to Cuffe parade and back everyday!!! It is simply unbelievable that a person can do so much everyday and still manage efficiency with punctuality. He operates on an 8 am to 8 pm shift. But he doesnt have an option of taking the train too at any point because there are always tiffins at various points at various suburbs en route. For example, there are 4 tiffins from Parel to Churchgate between which he couldve easily

taken the train by delegating his task of collection to another dabbawala. But then, he will lose his customers to that dabbawala then because it will be that second dabbawala who is putting all the efforts and hence, he cannot afford to lose customers because he would be hurting his own income. He cannot lose out on his business which is earned with extreme hard work. Therefore, this system of going individual as a dabbawala instead of a group is for those who prefer to put in more hard work just to earn that bit of extra income.

The disadvantages in this system are: The dabbawalas entire scheduling and system will be disrupted if any customer causes

a delay in giving the dabba to him. And secondly, if the dabbawala falls ill or takes leave due to any reason, there wont be

anyone to substitute his place and therefore, no backup. The customers will be frustrated and will switch over to another dabbawala if this one has a habit of abstaining. That would be a great loss to the dabbawala and hence, his health also needs to be maintained. Even more than any other dabbawala who are working in groups. This is rather difficult considering the rigorous working and the long hours involved. As it is apparent enough, there is hardly any contact between the client and the dabbawala during each day. The dabbawala meets the client in his office only on the first day of delivery to verify the address and to show the spot where the Tiffin will be kept daily. The system has been honed to such perfection that many dabbawalas carry out the entire operation with the help of just the 1st code, which is absolutely reversed. Evidently, this system is tailor-made specifically for a city like Mumbai.





Competitiven ess Large scale operation Formidable entry barrier Powerful Brand Uninterrupte d Legacy

Core values Discipline Providing food (higher order objective) Dignity of Labour Fixed one week holiday in a year

Infrastructur e Linear topography Sub-urban rail network Subsidized Transportati on Wide reach and coverage

Management Practices More than one group in a location (Internal Competition) Derisking Redundancy on route assignment

Process Enablers Co-operative customer Flexible train s chedule Supportive publi Delivery at floor level (destination) Liberal delivery time spe cifi cations

Resources Members Same ethnic group Apprentices hip

Structure Member, team and group Modular and scalable structure Co-operative organization

Codification (origin, destination) Mix of work and leisure Equal compensation Optimal Mix of transportation economics Centralized planning Decentralized execution Localized monitoring Dynamic manpower allocation

Need for service Preference to home food Long commuting distances Overstretche d public transport system Early departure from home

Performance Negligible error (six sigma) Inexpensive pricing Reasonable compensatio n to members



Six sigma is a disciplined data-driven approach to delivering very high levels of customer satisfaction for maximizing and sustaining business success. Six sigma also denotes a specific performance level. A six sigma process or transaction produces extremely few defects - 3.45 defects per million opportunities (99.99965% defect-free). A defect is anything that results in customer dissatisfaction. Customer satisfaction is the goal of six sigma. Six sigma can be deployed to improve the performance of all human work-processes, manufacturing and transactional. The Dabbawalas of Mumbai have received international acclaim for their defect-free handling of lunch boxes for clients. Forbes magazine has rated their performance on par with Motorolas, the pioneer of Six Sigma. From a six sigma perspective, the Dabbawalas must contend with two CTQs (critical-to-quality parameters): (1) Lunch boxes must be delivered on time, and (2) Recipients must receive their own lunch boxes and not some one elses. In today's world of six sigma quality standard & super technologies for supply chain management and logistical management it is a miracle that the failure or mistake in the service of dabbawalas is 1 in 16 million end deliveries that also due to accidents or acts of God and not human failure despite the fact that human beings are everything in this service. The remarkable performance of Dabbawalas for over hundred years is especially commendable since the workers are from the villages and are not even high school graduates and they are literates only to the level of understanding alphabets. Yet they are the best in time management, customer care and quality of service. The corporate world is wonderstruck as to how such a high level of quality has been achieved without any sophisticated formal management system in place. But


the irony is that the dabbawalas don't even understand terms such as Six Sigma quality or supply chain management. The Unique Features Of The Dabbawalas: Zero % - Fuel Zero % - Investment. Zero % - Modern Technology. Zero % - No Strike Record Till Date. 99.99% - Performance. 100% - Customer Satisfaction. What is unique about this system is that though most of the tiffin-carriers are illiterate they are the ultimate natural followers of strategies like Just-in-Time and Supply Chain Management-strategies which they have never learnt in any formal school of management. The dabbawalas may be semi-literate, but their efficient delivery and time management skills would shame some professionally managed corporations. Secondly, this 115 year old organization has not seen any labor problems till date, and has survived in face of the assault of five-star hotels, fast food frenzy, and over-the-counter culture. With an average age of 52 years, about 5,000 dabbawalas criss-cross the city using the local train network as the only technology and complete the last mile connectivity using bicycles. Impressively, their success is despite the dabba carrying no `From Address' and each tiffin box changing hands at least five times. The service is uninterrupted even on the days of extreme weather, such as Mumbai's characteristic monsoons.



The BDO is known and recognized for its negligible number of transactional errors. We now discuss in detail what is behind such an outstanding performance. Flexible Infrastructure: The back bone of BDO is the higher frequency of sub-urban train services. There is a train service virtually every minute. The entire operational area of BDO is serviced by the well developed railway infrastructure. Further, the train services are inexpensively priced. Customer Co-operation: The members of the co-operative do not wait for lunch boxes, if they are not ready when they arrive for collection at residences. The household understands the need to be punctual to support the functioning of BDO and extend appropriate co-operation.

Appropriate Network Structure: The logistics network of BDO is a combination of milkman route, hub-hub transfer, and hub and spoke distribution. There is perfect symmetry in the reverse logistics operation.

Codification system: The codification system is the core to material flow and its tracking in the system. It is home grown, ad hoc but serves adequately the purpose for which it is designed. It is a combination of alphabeti cs, symbols and colour. It is unique to BDO. The codification is a combination of systems approach and personalized information available to members. It is specific to the extent required.


Topography: The BDO has evolved in the context of Bombay city. The operational area topography is linear. At the origination it is dispersed over a large area. At the destination it is concentrated on a smaller geographical area. The traffic pattern is characterized by low volume spread over larger area to high volume spread over small area.

Process Capability: The total time required from collection to delivery is about 3 hours. End to end (conservative) travel time - 1.30 hrs. Travel time to the nearest railway station at the origin 30 mts. sorting and material handling etc. - 30 mts. and final dispatch - 30 mts. All this adds up to 3 hours. However, the time available for end-end delivery is at least 4 hours. Thus the BDO process is inherently capable of meeting customer expectations and specifications. Further, the delivery of the lunch boxes is consolidated at the floor level at the consumer location. In a place like Bombay, this saves significant time, energy and possible complications. The customers also participate in the last step of the (lunch box) delivery process. Further, it makes no difference to the customer (on time dimension) as long as the delivery is made before 1300 hrs.

Transport economics: The public infrastructure (sub-urban rail network) is used to deliver lunch boxes. This keeps the cost low, and hence affordable price to consumers. Lower price induces volume and scale economics. Depending on the need (at the origin and destination locations) the allocation of manpower is dynamic and flexible. There are more members to handle large volume at destination. At collection centers it is more of spread and appropriate volume and member ownership. Every customer location is identified with a team member. It is his (members) responsibility to collect lunch boxes and return empty boxes back home. The


codification system incorporates this specific need. Actually the BDO assigns specific collection routes to individual members.

Redundancy: Each route (collection) is assigned to an individual member. Often, this information on collection route is known to every other member in the team. Should there be a need to substitute a member on collection route it can be done effortlessly, without affecting the collection process and its accuracy Coordination: The responsibility to collect, transport and deliver lunch boxes is at the individual member level. There are no managers or supervisors in the system. Every member is motivated, trained, disciplined and empowered to do his job to the best of his ability. Structure: The structure is decentralized. The model is scalable (on volume). It is a three tier structure, co-operative organization. The basic units are individuals, teams and groups. There are in all 120 business units.

Compensation: Compensation in a group is same to every member irrespective of work load and responsibility.

Management Practices: The BDO provides illustration of several well known world class business practices. It has all the salient features of a brilliant business strategy. We first discuss briefly the elegant management practices and then outline the business strategy.


Structure and Organization: The BDO is organized as a co-operative structure to symbolize equality and fairness. The three tier structure is readily scalable based on business opportunity and volume. It eminently suits the attention needed at specific territories (group level). It ensures attention to detail and decentralization (at optimal resource deployment) at the team level. The team is nothing but a confederation of members. Each member is associated with a route. In this sense, the revenue opportunity is well integrated with the organization structure. The scale and scope economics are managed respectively by the teams and groups. The present structure is an optimal way of delivering centralized planning and decentralized execution of business services.

Codification System: This pragmatic codification system ensures complete traceability of lunch boxes in the system. It enables material flow and tracking of individual boxes by detailed information. It is inexpensive, less elegant, yet detailed enough to support operations. It integrates the knowledge and information of individual members on route, origin, handling agent, destination address etc. In a sense it is a variation of an online transaction processing system to identify and track material in (such) a large system.

HR Practices: The BDO is built on (members') pride in work. The members do not consider themselves as logistics (operation) providers. They consider their job is to provide food to their customers. This is source of pride for them. It is a great motivator to improve and sustain their performance. The members belong to a homogeneous (ethnic) group. There is a well developed apprenticeship program.


Compensation: The compensation is same at the group level. Equal work equal pay. There is no subsidy since group is a homogeneous and logically a differentiating entity.

Redundancy: The team members have slack capacity. Substitutability among members in a team is easy. Flexible manpower deployment at the destination ensures operational accuracy. More than one team operating in an originating train station ensures internal competition and operational efficiency.

Fun and Work Mix: After delivery of lunch boxes, the members break away from work to enjoy their leisure time. There is a one week forced holiday every year to visit their (member) villages. Mutual respect for individuals and empowerment are reinforcing features. Members are expected to conduct themselves to earn respect from public. They were uniform while at work.

Transportation Economics: BDO is an example of a judicious mix of transportation economics. At the collection point it is a milk man route structure. This is supported by a hubhub transfer to handle large volume at reduced operational cost. At the destination, it is hub to spoke to ensure response time and handle volume flexibility. The rail infrastructure ensures flexibility and lower cost of operation. Flexible manpower deployment and codification system guarantee appropriate response time, smooth flow of information and material tracking in the system.



The BDO competitive strategy elements include identification of a long lasting customer segment or need, effective use of public infrastructure, standardized operating procedures, partnership with customer, motivated and empowered employees and an appropriate material flow tracking system. A brief detail of these elements follow.

Perpetual Need: BDO caters to the basic yet perpetual demand of (serving) delivering home prepared (ethnic) food to Indian middle income executives working in Bombay. The need is more acute because of long commuting time, congested traffic conditions and long travel distances. This market segment would exist for long time to come. The only erosion to this market size or need is from changing food habits of Indian middle income group executives. While this is a reality, the change is surely expected to be slow. Therefore, in the immediate future, BDO is assured of its business so long as it can meet customer expectations on delivery and price (service charges).

Value Pricing: The core to BDO's operational efficiency is the well managed Bombay metro rail network. On any scale of comparison, for its wider reach and frequency of operations, the members of BDO use the rail network for a nominal price. The 5000 members are paid a reasonable compensation. The entire set of operations (BDO) are manual. All these contribute to lower operational cost and hence a reasonable price (or value pricing) to the consumers. Complemented by a large customer base, satisfied customers and an ever increasing working class population at Bombay, this business model is a passport to perpetual growth.


Standard Operating Procedures: BDO over a period of time has evolved as an outstanding example of standard operating procedure. There is no uncertainty in the delivery model at any stage. The individual member's role is clearly articulated. The information flow to track material (codification system) is perfect. Members are empowered in task execution. There is an element of internal competition: multiple teams in the same geographical location are operational to generate additional business volume. Fair business practices (equal compensation) and joy of work, pride in activity, fun mixed with work break the monotoni city in the standard operating procedure in BDO.

Partnership with stakeholders: There are three important stakeholders groups with whom BDO enjoys an excellent relationship. The first set is its primary customers. They support BDO in meeting no delay in delivering lunch boxes and accepting delivery at the floor level in the destination locations. The members are delighted to work for BDO (supported by empowerment, compensation and an economic activity for livelihood). The commuting public at large is tolerant to the inconveniences caused to them by BDO in the already over crowded, over stretched urban transport system. Over a period of time, BDO has become an essential element of modern Bombay.

Operational excellence: BDO has a remarkable and enviable quality record. This is a combination of flexible infrastructure, adequate buffer in material handling, reasonable and achievable service level specifications, elaborate and efficient codification system, self motivated and empowered employees, dynamic and flexible deployment of members to execute a given task, adopting a variety and mix of transportation models, and commitment to work ethics.

Structure: BDO operating structure is elegant, appropriate and enhances its operational excellence based business model. As discussed earlier the 3 tier structure ensures operational details are delegated to the most appropriate level. The structure provides for redundancy in team members and hence volume flexibility on lunch boxes handled by the system. The business integration happens at the group level. Broadly each group is self sufficient and has to manage its own operational income, volume and hence profitability. Any other centralized structure to supervise operations would have made the process inherently ineffective (expensive) and less responsive to customer needs. Performance measures: BDO performance measures are real time transactions based. As a matter of fact every transaction is monitored in terms of its collection, transportation, and delivery. Revenue collection is periodic and systematic. Employee (member) productivity is volume based. Compensation is equal, group based and is a function of revenue generated. Given internal competition at the group level this model is self corrective. Broadly there are no fixed assets. Therefore assets productivity is irrelevant in BDO. The performance of BDO is closely linked to the near automation (standardization) of the process. There are inherent buffers to manage and accommodate unanticipated risks in the system.

Customer focus: BDO is a service organization focused on customer expectation management. The service is priced low to attract and retain relevant customer segment and base. The process is capable enough in the context of assurances made to customers. The BDO has elevated the purpose of their business to an opportunity to provide food (higher order objective than transport logistics support to deliver lunch boxes). The discipline,


empowerment, commitment to work of members are all consequences of this higher order objective in meeting customer expectations.

There are several complimentary aspects of BDO which render it as unique and hence protects it from competition. The first and most critical is a business proposition based on inexpensive and reliable public infrastructure. This coupled with a formidable volume (of business) BDO has built up over a period of time, provides an unparalled advantage to BDO. The topography of Bombay (and client locations) and need for home based food (preference) are important contextual uniqueness. The BDO model is scalable. The logistics activities are member driven. The day to day operations are managed at the member level which provides harmony, synergy and symphony. The tracking mechanism is an innovative (and inexpensive) variation of online tracking system. Because of its innovation the tracking cost is negligible. The BDO annual revenue is Rs. 360 million. The size, scalable nature of operations, modular structure, customer service and negligible errors have kept competition away from this attractive business proposition. BDO is essentially a homogeneous product flow system in a linear topography. The present model may not be effective if any of the above conditions are not valid. There is a tolerance and sympathy shown by (Bombay rail) commuting public to BDO which may not be feasible in another context. The simple codification system which tracks the lunch boxes would be a serious constraint to handle multiple products in more than one direction. There is an attempt to use the BDO infrastructure to do market research etc. This is at best a temptation. BDO caters to a specific market and customer segment. Therefore any

market research activity based on this would inherently have less universal applicability. Also, for the members of BDO (because of their limited educational background) such activities may be a stretch. Therefore in our view, the growth for BDO would be volume based and is constrained to either Bombay alone or cities which are very similar to Bombay, in terms of infrastructure and traffic pattern. We review the business model, factors behind such an outstanding practices, elements of the business strategy, opportunities and limitations for its growth. BDO creates a sense of pride and a source of inspiration to managers and academicians (world class) BDO has perfected its systems and procedures to handle large volume of operations with negligible errors (six sigma) BDO operations are modular, they are scalable and flexible enough to handle volume (Flexible business strategy) BDO operations are customer centric, employee driven, and value based BDO is an example where flexibility in operational procedure takes precedence over precision (Prioritized objectives) The output accuracy (the number of transactions delivered on time) is supported by flexible infrastructure and time buffers in the delivery system (Strategy enablers) The management practices at BDO are intuition based (codification system, homogeneous employee background, innovative Human Resource practices et c.) Several contextual factors are combined to develop an excellent business model (inexpensive manpower availability, need for home food, urban transport infrastructure, unique traffic flow pattern etc.)


BDO has no unique scientific and or technological breakthroughs or competences. It is an excellent business model based on an innovative approach to satisfy a real (and unique) customer need (Innovation based strategy).




Name: Place: Designation:... 1. Who are the dabbawalas?

2. What is the type of service provided by the dabbawalas?

3. What is the history of the dabbawalas?

4. What is the name of the association of the dabbawalas? . 5. What is the organizational structure?


6. What are the rules and policies of the dabbawalas? 7. What is the function of the organization? 8. What is the pricing of this service? 9. Who are the clients? 10. What is the number of clients? 11. What is the rate of error? 12. What happens if the Tiffin gets lost?


13. What is the distribution network process? 14. How do you identify the destination and origin of the Dabbas? 15. Does the organization provide any benefits to its members? 16. What do you do if someone remains absent? 17. What is the total number of members? 18. What are the vehicles used to transport the dabbas? 19. What if the railways are not working?


20. What is the remuneration system? 21. What are the problems faced by the dabbawalas nowadays? 22. What are the awards and felicitations given to the dabbawalas? 23. What is the effect of all the recognition the dabbawalas have received?



Primary Discussions: Manish Tripathi, Director, Mumbai Dabbawala Gangaram Talekar, Secretary, Mumbai Dabbawala Nitin Dumbhare, Mumbai Dabbawala Ashok, Mumbai Dabbawala

Case Studies & References: Subrata N. Chakravarty and Nazneen Karmali, "Fast Food", Forbes Global, October 8, 1998. Ajay Kumar Chourasia and CSV Ratna, Dabbawalas: Foodline of Mumbai, ICFAI Press, Hyderabad (ICFAI Case No. 804-020-1). Tanya Chaitanya, Thinking out of the box, Times News Network, February 8, 2004. Sanghamitra Chakraborty, India Inc's date with tiffinwallahs, Times News Network, Saturday, September 21, 2002 Dabbawalas of Mumbai (A), Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario, Case No. 9B04D0111998. Dabbawalas await their date with Prince Charles, Afternoon Despatch & Courier, October 30, 2003 Dabbawalas epitome of management skills, Times News Network, January 18, 2004. N. Ravichandran (2004), Logistics: The Bombay Dabbawala's Operations, Presentation in INFORMS Meeting, Denver, Oct. 24-27, 2004.

Sheela Raval, Soul Food, India Today, June 7, 2004 Monirupa Shete, Tiffins are god's gift to the hungry, Times News Network, Monday, July 26, 2004

Gangaram Talekar and Raghunath Medge (2005), Six Sigma in Practice: Bombay Dabbawala Operations, Invited Presentation in 37th Annual Convention of Operational Research Society of India, Ahmedabad, January 8-11, 2005.

The Amazing story of Mumbai Dabbawalas, By : Shailena Varma, Logistics Manager, Target