Six Sigma Quality Certification endorsed
magazine, a fan club that includes
Prince Charles and Richard Branson
(owner of the Virgin empire) -- this
guest lecture was definitely going to be
unlike any other we have had on campus
at NITIE, Mumbai.
speakers were not your regular
pinstripe, suit-clad, swanky corporate
types who are often spotted in B-school
auditoriums, spewing management jargon.
Raghunath Megde and Gangaram Talekar, president
and secretary respectively of the Nutan
Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Charity
Trust of Mumbai, were here to share
their mantras on 'Time Management' and
'Supply Chain Management'.
Popularly known as Mumbai's
dabbawallas, they were here to
explain how their establishment managed
to supply, without any hitches, 2,00,000
lunch boxes everyday in the busy
metropolis of Mumbai.
The Six Sigma quality certification was
established by the International Quality
Federation in 1986, to judge the quality
standards of an organisation. According
to an article published in Forbes
magazine in 1998, one mistake for every
eight million deliveries constitutes Six
Sigma quality standards.
cutting to the management mantras, let's
understand a few facts about our
dabbawallas. Their mission is to
serve their customers -- who are mainly
office goers -- by delivering their
lunch boxes at their doorstep on time.
have 5,000 people on their payroll to
ensure the prompt delivery of lunchboxes
within Mumbai; these 'delivery boys'
travel by local trains and use bicycles
or walk to reach every nook and corner
The lunch boxes are delivered exactly at
12.30 pm. Later, the empty boxes are
collected and taken back to the homes,
catering services or hotels before 5 pm.
In fact, the next time you forget to
strap on your watch before leaving for
office, don't be surprised to find it in
the lunchbox container brought by the
dabbawalla from your home!
average, every tiffin box changes hands
four times and travels 60-70 kilometres
in its journey to reach its eventual
is differentiated and sorted along the
route on the basis of markings on the
lid, which give an indication of the
source as well as the destination
presentation was in chaste Hindi. We got
to know much about the operational
aspects of the process.
this, I deduced that dabbawallas
are a prime example of management
guru Michael Porter's Five Forces Theory
According to Manav Malik, a first year
student of NITIE, "Porter's theories,
which are the basis for classical
management principles, define the scope
and nature of competition a company
faces to attain leadership.
dabbawalas are following these very
principles in spite of their ignorance
of the same."
are as follows:
of new entrants: According to
Porter, the threat new entrants
is dangerous to any organisation as it
can take away the market share the
Started in 1880, the experience curve of
dabbawalla service serves as a huge
entry barrier for potential competitors.
Besides, it would be difficult to
replicate this supply chain network that
uses Mumbai's jam-packed local trains as
competition: Porter's five
forces theory states that strategy is
determined by a unique combination of
activities that deliver a different
value proposition than competitors or
the same value proposition in a better
dabbawallas do face competition
from fast food joints as well as office
canteens. However, since neither of
these serve home food, the
dabbawallas' core offering remains
have also tied up with many catering
services and hotels to cater to the vast
number of office goers.
power of buyers: The delivery
rates of the
dabbawallas are so nominal (about
Rs 300 per month) that one simply
wouldn't bargain any further.
their current monopoly negates any scope
of bargaining on the part of their
Thus, we encounter a perfect win-win
combination for the customers as well as
power of sellers: The
dabbawallas use minimum
infrastructure and practically no
technology, hence they are not
dependent on suppliers. Since they are a
service-oriented organisation, they are
not dependent on sellers to buy their
product. Hence, sellers do not assume
any prominence as would be the case in a
The strategy map framework in Porter's
theory allows companies to identify and
link together the critical internal
processes and human, information and
organisation capital that deliver the
value proposition differently or
Human capital is the greatest driving
force in the
dabbawalla community; as a result,
they are not dependent on suppliers or
technology, thus negating the seller's
power in the equation.
of a new substitute product or service:
As substitutes to home cooked food are
not seen as a viable alternative in the
Indian scenario, the threat to the
dabbawalla service is not an issue
at least in the foreseeable future.
This gives them a leeway to probably
expand their already existing network
into newer cities as demand increases in
these places as well.
So, will these people next target the
other metros in India? Only time will
is horror," said Talekar while
explaining the operational motto. In the
event of a
dabbawalla meeting with an accident
en route, alternative arrangements are
made to deliver the lunch boxes.
For example, in a group of 30
dabbawallas catering to an area,
five people act as redundant members; it
is these members who take on the
responsibility of delivering the
case of any untoward happenings.
dabbawallas must be extremely
disciplined. Consuming alcohol while on
duty attracts a fine of Rs 1,000.
Unwarranted absenteeism is not tolerated
and is treated with a similar fine.
dabbawalla gets a weekly off,
usually on Sunday.
Gandhi cap serves as a potent symbol of
identification in the crowded railway
stations. Not wearing the cap attracts a
fine of Rs 25.
Richard Branson, the maverick
businessman who is never shy to promote
himself and the Virgin brand, donned a
dabbawallas' signature dress code),
during the launch of Virgin's inaugural
flights to Mumbai.
are no specific selection criteria like
age, sex or religion; however, I have
never seen a female
dabbawalla. The antecedents of the
candidates are thoroughly verified and a
new employee is taken into the fold for
a six-month probation.
that period, the employment is
regularised with a salary of Rs 5,000 a
~ It is
interesting to note there is no
retirement age, and any person can work
till he is fit enough to carry on the
tasks required of him.
management students, there was a lot
that we learnt from this lecture," says
Karthik A J, a first year management
student at NITIE. " The belief that
technology is indispensable to solve
complex problems was shattered. FMCGs
and other industries can learn a lot
from the simple supply chain logistics
and efficient reverse logistics
(transfer of empty lunch boxes to the
source location)," he adds.
concept of multi-level coding (colour
coding on the lunch boxes for
identification) and reverse
logistics can be implemented in
industries as diverse as soft drinks
(where logistics becomes an important
aspect, transporting the filled bottles
to retailers and collecting empty
bottles back to the plants),
pharmaceuticals and other FMCG areas.
For example, can the bar coding
mechanism (a computerised format) which
is prevalent and expensive, be
simplified with just colour/ number
In small and medium scale organisations
where bar coding systems would require a
lot of resources, these systems can
prove to be very efficient and cost
Moreover, the dependence on technology
could be drastically reduced.
learning for a working executive
are enormous too. Managers and
executives alike spend a lot of their
valuable time learning various concepts
in people and time management. Newer
mechanisms like Customer Relationship
Management, etc, have been developed to
assist executives in the same.
But, in the midst of implementing
technology and IT, basic principles in
people management, sustainable
relationship development and customer
satisfaction have lost their meaning.
dabbawallas are a perfect example
of an important principle of both
business and management -- the thirst to
serve customers in a simple yet
effective fashion without falling into
the technology trap. I think this is an
aspect which needs to be re-learnt and
implemented in any organisation today.