Chapter 2: Dabbawallas of Mumbai ' A Preface
This chapter begins with a brief outline of Six Sigma, for a better understanding of its significance. It gives an insight into the livelihood and daily work culture of the Dabbawallas. It focuses on the magnitude of the Six Sigma certification awarded to the Dabbawallas Association by Forbes Global. This chapter also outlines the organizational structure of the Dabbawallas as well as the current logistics and catering units in use by the Dabbawallas. The shortcomings of the Dabbawalla organization are examined and the influence it's had on other industries is also looked upon.
2.2. Introduction to Mumbai's Phenomenal 'Dabbawallas'
If ever in the economic capital of India, Mumbai, one would notice amongst the million ever so busy populations, men bustling about with white 'Nehru' caps and a lorry of tiffins with hieroglyphics on them moving about here and there just before the clock strikes lunch time. These men comprise the iconic so called 'Dabbawallas' of Mumbai, busy delivering tiffins to and forth around the six hundred and three kilo meter square radius of Mumbai. (Mumbai Dabbawala Association, 2014)
The Dabbawallas started business in 1890, during the British Colonial rule, under the guidance of visionary Mahadeo Havaji Bachche, to form a guild of a small number of a hundred men who delivered tiffins to office goers who were in need of good home cooked meals. Almost a hundred and twenty five years later, with the growth of the city came the growth of the then small lunch delivery service, to comprise of five thousand Dabbawallas delivering more than two hundred thousand tiffin boxes every day. In 1956, nine years after India gained independence; a charitable trust was registered under 'Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Trust' (NMTBST). 'Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Supplier's Association' (NMTBSA) is a separate arm of the organization that went commercial and was registered in 1968. (Bell, 2010)
The Dabbawallas are considered more iconic of Mumbai than the Taj Mahal Hotel, or its neighbour, the Gateway of India. Mr Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin group, visited the Dabbawallas and even donned the 'Nehru' topi to work as a Dabbawalla for a day. This was to promote Virgin Atlantic's flights to London from Mumbai in 2005. Prince Charles met the Dabbawallas at the Western Railway Headquaters, next to Churchgate station in South Mumbai, on their schedule as they wouldn't defer from their deliveries for any purpose, including meeting the Prince of Wales in 2003. He also donned the Nehru cap and marvelled at their excellent efficiency in service. Two Dabbawallas in 2005 were invited to London for the Royal wedding of Prince Charles with Camila Parker-Bowles. (Prahlad, 2013)
2.3. Introduction to Six Sigma
Many organizations train their employees while also making changes to their process, all to achieve Six Sigma. Why? Six Sigma is a certification of excellence. It is the execution of a process to near perfection without the slightest error rate. Six Sigma was developed by Bill Smith, a senior engineer as well as scientist at Motorola in 1986. Motorola also copyrighted it. Six Sigma helped Motorola improve quality and efficiency standards in their production, from manufacturing to customer service. It helped the organization so much so that they won the Malcolm Bridge National Quality Award in 1988. Many other organizations such as General Electric and Citibank adopted Six Sigma to improve their systems and reduce the number of defects. Many institutions also offer courses in Six Sigma, including the Motorola University. (McCarthy, 2004)
It was introduced as a method of standardizing the count of defects during a process. It's a statistical measure of the functioning of an operation. Six Sigma follows a structured process to understand and identify the root cause for defects in an organizational process and eliminates them to improve the process as well as increase productivity. (Motorola Inc., 2005)
2.3.1. Six Sigma Goals
The goals of Six Sigma could be outlined as:
' To identify and understand customer requirements.
' To align the organizations process to meet these requirements.
' To reduce the number of variations in defects in the process.
' To maintain sustainable improvement in the process.
Six Sigma tries to accomplish a number of objectives critical to an organizational business. It is quality control that is customer driven. The very first goal is to put the customer first, and improve the overall customer satisfaction. Fast tracking the performance of the organization, improving forecasts for certainty, eliminating deficiencies, cutting down costs with precaution to unforeseen consequences and improving statistical measurement of end to end performance of the organization. (Pande, Newman, & Cavanagh, 2000)
2.3.2. Significance of Six Sigma
Six Sigma certified companies signify less than 3.4 defects in per million in their production and services. Though what is the importance of Six Sigma? Is it just a fad? A look at any Six Sigma certified company denotes the magnitude upon quality standards and customer satisfaction, which is why various organizations aim for Six Sigma certification. It is proactive quality control. (Rojas, 2014)
Six Sigma measures the number of defects statistically in production. It offers alternatives to eliminate and reduce the number of defects in production, so far as to achieve close to zero defects. According to Six Sigma, standards state that not more than 3.4 defects in a production per million opportunities. Six Sigma also focuses on customer requirements and specifications, in order to deliver precise quality products and services. It determines on improvements to be made. (Rojas, 2014)
It also boosts productivity to meet the managements as well as customer expectations. Directed by statistical data, assessments can be made in areas where improvement is specifically required. The organization also develops a Six Sigma culture, where leaders can apply Six Sigma concepts to the organizational goals. Six Sigma has proven to be reliable and even helps in forecasting hitches in the production process in various situations. (Rojas, 2014)
2.4. Six Sigma and the Dabbawallas
Mumbai, the capital city of the state of Maharashtra, is the most populous city in the country. It also happens to be the commercial as well as financial capital of India. It is estimated to have had a population of 13 million in the year 2013, which compared to the previous year, was a growth of 4.2%. It happens to be the fourth most populous city in the world. Being a metropolitan city, it still has its slums. However, they are the most literate slums in the country, with the literacy rate at 69%. (World Population Statistics, 2013)
The New York Times reported back in 2007 that the Dabbawallas grow in business by 5% to 10% every year. Around five thousand Dabbawallas deliver around two hundred thousand tiffins back and forth every day. Due to the error rate of just 1 in about sixteen million transactions, the Dabbawallas were awarded the Six Sigma Certification by Forbes Global in 2001. Karl Moore writes in an article, that the Dabbawallas are the best example of frugal innovation by using the term Jugaad to describe their way of working. The Dabbawallas are said to be unique, since they don't have any capital investment, nor do they rely on fuel and barely use any advanced technology. The Dabbawallas organization is also ISO 9001-2000 certified, for their proficiency and adeptness in delivery as well as customer satisfaction. (Moore, 2011)
2.4.1. Understanding the work culture of the Dabbawallas
'Hatachi pachuch bote hajaro kame kartat; Karan tyanchyat aeekya aste'
The above statement is a common saying amongst the Dabbawallas that means that five fingers of a palm can do a thousand things because they have unity. The Dabbawallas comprise of five thousand individuals, majority who haven't completed schooling, and without knowledge of management theories maintain delivery of tiffin boxes with great efficiency and precision timing. This is achieved through alignment of personal goals with organizational goals. Every Dabbawalla has one mission, 'To serve their customers on Time'. Punctuality is an important virtue for all Dabbawallas. 'Work is Worship' is a common philosophy of the Dabbawallas, as well as 'Customer is God'. (Partani, 2009)
Fast food joints and other eateries have popped all over Mumbai in the past two decades on streets, in malls as well as in offices. Yet the Dabbawallas seem to have no remark about them. A statement by fellow Dabbawalla Raghunath Megde, says that the cost difference between cooking food at home and the cost of buying fast food is vast. The Dabbawallas charge a low price for delivery, and the food delivered is relatively fresh and warm as compared to fast food joints that use frozen packaged products. The Dabbawallas have zero attrition rates and provide high customer satisfaction. (MARC Business School, 2013)
The Dabbawallas are not employees, but rather members of the NMTBSA. Hence each Dabbawalla has a sense of ownership and takes responsibility for the delivery of tiffins irrespective of setbacks and other problems. This sense of ownership is what drives them to achieving Excellency. (Roncaglia, 2013)
2.4.2. The Organizational Structure of the Dabbawallas
The Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association (NMTBSA) is a simple three tiered structure that has a flat hierarchy organizational spread of duties. The governing council, vice president, general secretary, treasurer, and nine directors form the head of the NMTBSA. They regulate the daily activities of the Dabbawallas, solve possible conflicts and errors, and also fine Dabbawallas that commit errors on a regular basis. They are comprised of people who once served as Dabbawallas, hence there is a fine understanding amongst decisions made. (Patel & Vedula, 2006)
The Mukadam is second in the organizational hierarchy of the Dabbawallas. Four Mukadams look over around 20 to 25 individual Dabbawallas in assigned areas. They assist the Dabbawallas and resolve potential issues on the field. They also work in coordination with other Dabbawallas; else the business wouldn't exist, though each division of Mukadams is financially independent. A Mukadam is akin to a regular Dabbawalla apart from the additional duties carried out. (Patel & Vedula, 2006)
2.4.3. Why employ a Dabbawalla?
A common question that arises amongst foreigners, who visit India, is what is the purpose of the Dabbawalla? In the late 19th century, when India was under the British raj, many people from various Indian ethnic backgrounds migrated to Mumbai in search for a better livelihood, as is the same today. At the time, canteens and cafeterias in work places weren't prevalent and for working people, who didn't bring their own tiffin box of food, would have to go hungry through lunch hours. Due to the number of different people from different communities working in Mumbai, catering to satisfy the workers food preferences wasn't possible. For those who would parcel cooked food from home to the office faced the dilemma of cold, un-appetizing food. Mahadeo Havaji Bachche recognized the delinquent issue, and kick started the Dabbawalla business which was an immediate success. (IBS Center for Management Studies, 2004)
As for the prevalence of the Dabbawallas in the modern day Mumbai, it is an inbred value to eat home food for Indians. As for new regulations amongst office goers, any food item isn't allowed into the office premises. It is an inconvenience to heat chilled food in microwaves as the quality deteriorates and is time consuming if one item is heated at a time. Hence the delivery of warm home food in tiffins at the right lunch hour is more than welcome by Indian office workers. Other purposes such as prevention of theft as theft of food is common amongst single refrigerators in offices, else the delivery of small notes in the tiffin, personalization of meals as each tiffin has different preparations and general variety are reasons why the Dabbawallas have boomed in Mumbai.
2.4.4. Current Logistics for the Dabbawallas
'If the train is the lifeline of the city, the Dabbawallas are the food line'
The Dabbawallas currently severely rely on the sub urban local trains of Mumbai to deliver their tiffins efficiently within 3 hours of pick-up across almost 80 Km. It is the large railway lines of Mumbai that make the Dabbawalla business possible only in this metropolitan city. Of course, while off the tracks the Dabbawallas do make use of bicycles and on foot, they use bandis or push carts. The local trains of Mumbai branch out onto three main lines, the Western line, the Central line and the Harbour line. Each line is interconnected to an important part of the metropolitan city. (Abhyankar, et al., 2012)
The railway system of Mumbai is profoundly the reason why the Dabbawallas work only in this metropolitan city. It is low in cost for transport, quick as it erases out common road issues such as traffic, convenient as trains stop at a platform every ten minutes and the train stations are very conveniently located. The issue with Mumbai's railway lines is that they are over-crowded. A typical local train has 9 carriages also called 'dabbas', which are rated to have the dimensions to carry and transport one thousand five hundred passengers comfortably. However, it has been recorded that a single train with a capacity for one thousand five hundred passengers is over-exhausted for majority of the working hours during the day with over four thousand five hundred passengers. Due to this issue, it is also reported that around thirty-six thousand deaths were caused due to Mumbai's railway system in span of 10 years. This raises questions on the safety of the Dabbawalla. (Railway Gazette, 2010)
The Dabbawallas identify the delivery address through a simple alpha-numeric colour code that is present on top of every Dabba. The Dabbawallas used simple coloured threads when they first started business. With the increase in customers and development of the city of Mumbai, this coloured thread system was dumped and the Dabbawallas adopted a new system of identifying the currently in use alpha-numeric code. The code is easy to identify, distinguish and understand, especially for experienced Dabbawallas.
2.4.5. Dabbawallas influence on businesses
According to 'The Dabbawallas', a documentary by Denise Rousseau and Paul S. Goodman, who teach at the Graduate School of Industrial Administration of Carnegie Mellon University, filmed in 2003, the Dabbawallas serve as a counterpoint to the common question about how developing countries can learn from the knowledge of developed countries. In fact the Dabbawallas serve as prime example of how developed countries can learn a lot more from developing countries. (IBS Center for Management Studies, 2004)
The Dabbawallas have influenced industries that have nothing directly related to logistics including wine houses, pharmaceutical companies as well as the textile industry. The following are key factors that have proved to be a boon to the Dabbawallas business:
The Dabbawallas continue to astound large corporates with their simplicity. The Dabbawallas require no fuel for transport; have a simple alpha-numerical code that is easy to learn and understand, and have only recently started using simple technology such as SMS in order to stay connected, else receive any change in delivery address or new orders from the Mukadam.
The Dabbawallas have a working understanding of each other and the job to be accomplished, which is to deliver the tiffin on time and achieve customer satisfaction. The tiffins exchange hands more than three times by different Dabbawallas. Very rarely does the same Dabbawalla who picked up the tiffin from the home address deliver it to the office address. Hence every Dabbawalla takes it up as a personal responsibility to prevent hitches, learn quickly and improvise.
126.96.36.199. Low Cost in Operations
As mentioned before, the Dabbawallas rely on Mumbai's local trains for transport. They travel on bicycle and on foot past getting off the train. This eliminates the requirement of fuel, and hence the cost involved in paying for fuel. There is barely any monetary expense in their delivery system other than buying railway tickets and maintenance of bicycles and pushcarts. Due to the low operating costs in delivery of the tiffins, the cost for the customer is also very low. The Dabbawallas aim at keeping the cost low for customers, which is part of delivering customer satisfaction.
2.4.6. Shortcomings of the Dabbawallas
The Dabbawallas highly rely on the Suburban trains of Mumbai for delivery of the tiffins. Though this is may be viewed as a boon, it also formulates a bane to the organization. The suburban trains of Mumbai are over-crowded, and at times of floods and natural disasters, been non-functional. In such times, the Dabbawallas are forced to shut down business, and only on a few occasions delivered tiffins successfully in spite of floods. They also had to shut down business during the train strike in 1974. However this proves a risk to the Dabbawallas in terms of personal safety. As the Dabbawallas have to constantly travel with large racks with around 35-40 tiffins which weigh around 60-70 kgs into crowded trains, it can become quite hectic. The Dabbawallas have no alternate means of transport for delivery, which can be viewed as a short coming of the organization. (Prahlad, 2013)
188.8.131.52. Low Income
Of the five thousand Dabbawallas employed, it is estimated that eighty-five percent are illiterate, and that fifteen percent have completed education till the 8th standard. As the price for modern education grows, the Dabbawallas often turn to low income jobs to satiate the low pay of being a Dabbawalla. Some Dabbawallas also work as taxi drivers. This is often done to provide for the individuals family whilst some often do it to complete schooling. Many changes are being made though, as the trust for the organization has started providing English language courses, as many of the customers now speak in English. Though such small changes are taking place in the organization, Mumbai is developing in a much faster pace. (Prahlad, 2013)
2.4.7. Dabbawalla Ethics
The Dabbawallas main goal is to deliver tiffins as well as customer satisfaction. They also pay a great deal of attention to quality of service as well as put focus on not disrupting the surrounding environment. Many people send notes, sometimes money, etc. through the tiffins as they know that the Dabbawallas never open any tiffin whilst delivery. The Dabbawallas also follow a code of conduct, such as no consumption of alcohol while on duty, respect the customer, and adorn the topi for recognition. (Roncaglia, 2013)
The Happy Life Welfare Society joined hands with the Dabbawallas to set up a non-profit organization called 'Share my Dabba'. Customers, who haven't finished their lunch and have food left over, can place a 'Share my Dabba' sticker on their tiffin, which is recognized by the Dabbawalla upon pick-up, who then proceeds to deliver the tiffin to members of the 'Share my Dabba' organization, while still maintaining their Six Sigma excellency. (Naidu, 2013)
2.4.8. Current Catering sources
Majority of the food delivered in the tiffins by the Dabbawallas is cooked by the respective housewife of the customer at home. Very few people cater to a number of orders by different customers. The housewife is to keep the tiffin ready before the Dabbawalla arrives. Depending on the locality, the pick-up timing varies for each house, but is between 9am -10 am. If the tiffin is not ready for pick-up for more than 3 consecutive times, the Dabbawalla doesn't deliver for that particular customer. Some customers also order from small stand-alone restaurants, who also keep the tiffins ready for pick-up. Spicebox! Food Services, A major catering unit famed for its Punjabi food, is a well-known employer of the Dabbawallas.
A budding entrepreneur, Gurmeet Kochhar, who was an investment banker who, whilst working for long hours thought of an affordable healthy lunch solution as an answer to the un -nutritious meals he would consume during his lunch break. He decided his lunch solution would come in a great package, would be nutritious and convenient to order. With that concept and a little work, Spicebox! Food Services was born. (Spicebox! Food Services, 2014)
Spicebox! Food Services, allows customers to browse online and select and order a meal plan from an online menu. They are open to feedback and changes required by the customer through various social networking sites like facebook and twitter. The meals are packed in eco-friendly tiffin boxes that are reusable and microwave friendly, so that food can be reheated if required. The tiffins are sterilized and maintained hygienically. Spicebox! caters to vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike and even offers a mixed option menu. They charge monthly which is 4 weeks, with the price range within Rupees two thousand and they also offer a two week trial period. The menu is different every day, with a special cuisine served every Friday. (Spicebox! Food Services, 2014)
Spicebox! Food Services employ Dabbawallas to deliver their tiffins, Rupees four hundred is charged to the customer for using the Dabbawalla service for 4 weeks. Spicebox! relies on the Dabbawallas for their delivery services, and hence only provide lunch menus. Unlike the usual delivery and pick up of empty tiffins after an hour of them being delivered, Spicebox! instead opts for pick-up of the empty tiffins the next day, with the delivery of the next day's new tiffin. Spicebox! is also a keen supporter of the 'Share My Dabba' initiative by the Happy Life Welfare group. Customers who may choose to skip lunch the next day can instead choose to contribute the tiffin to the 'Share my Dabba' initiative, by sending an SMS before midnight. The tiffin is labelled with the 'Share my Dabba' sticker, which the Dabbawallas recognize and deliver to the 'Share my Dabba' organization. (Spicebox! Food Services, 2014)
This chapter summarizes the work culture of the Dabbawallas, as well as the slow progress in change in the entire process from the use of coloured threads to an alpha-numeric code to determine the delivery address. The chapter also focuses on the awards and certifications the organization has been awarded, signifying the global recognition it has achieved in the past decade. This leads us to the next chapter which will set the framework for the research methodology adopted by the author for the purpose of this project.
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