Home » Batch 2012 - 14 » Mumbai Dabbawalla- Efficiency without a degree

Mumbai Dabbawalla- Efficiency without a degree

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Monday mornings are the most dreaded ones for every working individual. In Mumbai, the business capital of India, millions of people hustle around without the usual Monday morning blues. What is most evident is the passion and fire to get the most sought after thing in the local train, which is ‘the window seat’. One giant leap and only a few lucky ones succeed in conquering the most coveted seat. But what about the fire in their bellies just about lunch time, who will put that off, especially, if they cannot do without the magic of their mother’s / wife’s fingertips? That is when the Dabbawalla of Mumbai, a 120-plus-year-old service enters the scene, a service that guarantees to deliver your home cooked food right to your place of work. It serves with an efficiency that remains unaffected even in the most extreme of Mumbai weathers.

The concept of the dabbawala originated when India was under the British rule. Many British officers who lived in India did not like the local food, so a service was set up to bring lunch to these people in their workplace, straight from their home. The man behind the vision was Hon. Mahadu Havaji Bache who started the Dabbawala system with a handful of 35 Dabbawalas in 1890. The organization has now transformed into 4,500 –plus dabbawalas who deliver 2,00,000 Dabbas, making close to 4,00,000 transactions every day.

The system the dabbawalas have developed over the years revolves around strong teamwork and strict time-management. At 9am every morning, home-made meals are picked up in special boxes, loaded onto trolleys and pushed to a railway station. They then make their way via local trains to an unloading station where Dabbas are sorted according to destination. The boxes are rearranged so that those going to similar destinations are indicated by a system of coloured lettering. The complete address of the destination is indicated on the dabba by means of simple coding language. The dabbas are further sorted based on the specific area and building. The dabbas are then delivered via cycles, hand carts or even on foot. The meals are delivered—99.9999% of the time, to the right address. An hour later the dabbawallas collect the empty dabbas, meet at the origin station and dispatch the empty boxes back to the residence.

The Dabbawalas at work

Dabbawalas became the first organisation in India and the second in the world to be awarded the coveted Six Sigma performance rating by Forbes magazine, the certificate which sadly lies in a cupboard of their possible office, simply eating dust.  The awards and accolades gathered by them is something that even the Tata’s can feel envious about. They have an ISO 9001: 2000 for excellence in services, certificate by “The Joint Accreditation System Of Australia And New Zealand”. They also have their name in the  coveted Guinness Book of World Records for the best time management and are also registered with Ripley’s Believe it or not. The icing on the cake is that the President of the Dabbawala Organization, Shri Raghunath Dondhiba Medge has been giving lectures at various business management schools, including the Harvard Business School and other colleges across the globe explaining the finer nuances of their business model and why it is so efficient and successful.

The Dabbawalas have an error rate of 1 dabba in every 6 million dabbas that is an accuracy rate of 99.99999%. In today’s technologically advanced time, the Dabbawalas are functioning with utmost accuracy in the absolute lack of technology. They have an excellent supply chain; though, they probably don’t even know what it means. Most of the people working with them are semi-literate but still they read the dabba code correctly and deliver it. Is their business model worth replicating in this digital age is the big question. Even if we replicate it, is it possible to sustain it with the efficiency in which they do? It is the question I leave you with to ponder upon!


Ashwin Govindankutty

Batch 2012-14



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