Mumbai's Dabbawalas - Amazing Management Success Story India
The Wonder of Mumbai Dabbawallas
Inspiration of Management
supported by http://www.mydabbawala.com/
• A dabbawala (one who carries the box, see Etymology), sometimes
spelled dabbawalla or dabbawallah, is a person in the Indian city of
Mumbai whose job is to carry and deliver freshly made food from
home in lunch boxes to office workers. Tiffin is an old-fashioned
English word for a light lunch, and sometimes for the box it is carried
in. Dabbawalas are sometimes called tiffin-wallas. For the efficiency
of their supply chain it has been claimed that this virtually achieves a
Six Sigma performance rating, (i.e. 99.9999% of deliveries are made
without error, he is at CMMi level 6).
• Though the work sounds simple, it is actually a highly specialized
trade that is over a century old and which has become integral to
• The dabbawala originated when India was under British rule: many
Indian people who worked in British companies disliked the British
food served by the companies, so a service was set up to bring lunch
to them in their workplace straight from their home. Nowadays,
Indian businessmen are the main customers for the dabbawalas, and
the service often includes cooking as well as delivery.
(Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association)
• History : Started in 1880
• Charitable trust : Registered in 1956
• Avg. Literacy Rate : 8th
• Total area coverage : 60 Kms
• Employee Strength : 5000
• Number of Tiffin's : 2,00,000 Tiffin Boxes
i.e 4,00,000 transactions every day.
• Time taken : 3 hrs
What is NMTBSA?
• Error Rate : 1 in 16 million transactions
• Six Sigma performance (99.999999)
• Technological Backup : Nil.
• Cost of service - Rs. 200/month ($ 4.00/month)
• Standard price for all (Weight, Distance, Space)
• Rs. 50 Cr. Turnover approx.
[200,000*200=400,000,00 p.m. i.e 48 crore p.a.]
• “No strike” record as each one a share holder
• Earnings -5000 to 6000 p.m.
DABBAWALLAS IN TRAIN COMPARTMENT
The word "Dabbawala" can be translated as "box-carrier" or "lunchpail-
man". In Marathi and Hindi, "dabba" means a box (usually a cylindrical
aluminium container), while "wala" means someone in a trade involving the
object mentioned in the preceding term, e.g.
punkhawala with "pankha" which means a fan and "wala
" mean the person who owns the pankha (The one with the fan).
• No Alcohol Drinking during business hours
• Wearing White Cap during business hours
• Carry Identity Cards
• Mrs. Bhikhubai of Borivali(East)
• Mrs. Anandibai of Andheri(East)
LATEST MARKETING STRATEGY:
Marketing message in the “dabba”
How do they do it…?
Teams of 20-25 headed by a
workload = 30 tiffins
• War against Time (10.30 –
• The Code
Case Study : TBSA
Tiffin Box Suppliers Association
The service is uninterrupted even on the days of extreme weather, such as
Mumbai's characteristic monsoons. The local dabbawalas at the receiving and
the sending ends are known to the customers personally, so that there is no
question of lack of trust. Also, they are well accustomed to the local areas they
cater to, which allows them to access any destination with ease. Occasionally,
people communicate between home and work by putting messages inside the
boxes. However, this was usually before the accessibility of
PRESIDENT & GENERAL SECRETARY
NUTAN MUMBAI TIFFIN BOX SUPPLIERS ASSOCIATION
FINANCIAL DATA OF A
Rs 125000 Total earnings -20 People
Rs 35000 Maintenance cost
Tiffin luggage basket pass – Rs 180 per person.
Maintenance of cycles – Rs 300 – 2 cycles per
month. Maintenance of wooden boxes –
Rs 100 per person . T.C , police robbery of Tiffin Rs
500 yearly. Organizational fee Rs 15 per head.
Puja held per station Rs 50 per head.
Awards and Felicitation
Shri.Varkari Prabhodhan Mahasmati Dindi (palkhi) sohala – 4th
Invitation from CII for conference held in Bangalore.
Documentaries made by BBC ,UTV, MTV, and ZEE TV
Dabbawalla services are popular with the Indian IT developer
community in Silicon Valley, California, USA
One of the two protagonists in Salman Rushdie's controversial novel The Satanic
Verses, Gibreel Farishta, was born as Ismail Najmuddin to a dabbawallah. In the
novel, Farishta joins his father, delivering lunches all over Bombay (Mumbai) at
the age of 10, until he is taken off the streets and becomes a movie star.
Dabbawalas feature as an alibi in the Inspector Ghote novel Dead on Time.
• World record in best time management.
• Name in “GUINESS BOOK of World
• Registered with Ripley's “ believe it or
Logistics is happening 24 hrs a day,7 days a week
and 52 weeks a year.
Logistical competency is achieved by coordinating
VLP : Vile Parle
(Suburb in Mumbai)
9E12 : Code
for Dabbawallas at
E : Express Towers
12 : Floor No.
E : Code for
3 : Code for Destination station
(E.g.. Nariman Point)
• Let us now look at an example of t hese
codes on t he t if f ins t o bet t er
underst and t he syst em and what it all
• 10:34-11:20 am
• This t ime period is act ually t he j our ney
t ime. The dabbawalas load t he wooden
crat es f illed wit h t if f ins ont o t he luggage or
goods compart ment in t he t r ain. Gener ally,
t hey choose t o occupy t he last compar t ment
of t he t rain.
• 11:20 – 12:30 pm
• At t his st age, t he unloading t akes place at
t he dest inat ion st at ion
• Re-arr angement of t if f ins t akes place as per
t he dest inat ion area and dest inat ion building
• I n part icular areas wit h high densit y of cust omers, a special
crat e is dedicat ed t o t he area. This crat e carries 150 t if f ins
and is driven by 3-4 dabbawalas!
• 1:15 – 2:00 pm
• Here on begins t he collect ion pr ocess where
t he dabbawalas have t o pick up t he t if f ins
f r om t he of f ices where t hey had delivered
almost an hour ago.
• 2:00 – 2:30 pm
• The gr oup member s meet f or t he segr egat ion as
per t he dest inat ion subur b.
• 2:48 – 3:30 pm
• The ret ur n j ourney by t r ain wher e t he group
f inally meet s up af t er t he day’s rout ine of
dispat ching and collect ing f rom various
dest inat ion of f ices
• Usually, since it is mor e of a pleasant
j ourney compar ed t o t he ear lier par t of t he
day, t he dabbawalas light en up t he moment
wit h merry making, joking around and
• 3:30 – 4:00 pm
• This is t he st age where t he f inal sort ing
and dispat ch t akes place. The group
meet s up at or igin st at ion and t hey f inally
sort out t he t if f ins as per t he or igin ar ea
THE ROYAL VISIT:
• Recent ly, t he dabbawala’s had royal company at Churchgat e st at ion.
The Prince of Wales himself had visit ed t hem when he came down t o
• He t ook keen int erest in t heir way of f unct ioning, expressed surprise
at t heir ef f iciency and was st ruck wit h awe when he was t old t hat
t hey didn’t employ any t echnology.
• The prince was present ed a small mement o, accompanied wit h a
RICHARD BRANSON CHAIRMAN VIRGIN ATLANTIC AIRWAYS MUMBAI
• Sir Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Atlantic Airways,
meeting the Mumbai's famed 'Dabbawalas' at their nodal
point, the Churchgate Railway Station in South Mumbai,
on April 1, 2005.
Order Dabbawalas Products and services Online
MyDabbawalas.com developing a software application through which
the people of Mumbai can order Dabba service online through internet.
The order will be booked online and Dabba will be picked up from your
home and will be delivered to office in time. Please wait , the software
will be soon available. Meanwhile you may send us E-Mail us at
Sales@MyDabbawala.Com with your details ( name, home address ,
office address , home phone , office phone , mobile number , whether
you want dabba on Saturday) and He will contact you to start the
Order through SMS
Although the service remains essentially low-tech, with the barefoot delivery boys
as the prime movers, the dabbawalas have started to embrace technology, and now
allow booking for delivery through SMS. A web site, mydabbawala.com, has also
been added to allow for on-line booking, in order to keep up with the times. An on-line
poll on the web site ensures that customer feedback is given pride of place.
The success of the system depends on teamwork and time management that would
be the envy of a modern manager. Such is the dedication and commitment of the
barely literate and barefoot delivery boys (there are only a few delivery women) who
form links in the extensive delivery chain, that there is no system of documentation at
all. A simple colour coding system doubles as an ID system for the destination and
recipient. There are no elaborate layers of management either — just three layers.
Each dabbawala is also required to contribute a minimum capital in kind, in the shape
of two bicycles, a wooden crate for the tiffins, white cotton kurta-pyjamas, and the
white trademark Gandhi topi (cap). The return on capital is ensured by monthly
division of the earnings of each unit. -
Presentation : Paavan Solanki