The Dabbawala Supply Chain
I'd never heard of the dabbawalas until a month or so ago, when I read an article on them the always entertaining Economist (July 12, 2008).
For those in the dark, dabbawalas are delivery men (barefoot and mostly illiterate, by the way) who bring Mumbai office workers a nice warm lunch to their offices. In the good old days, these meals were home-made; in today's world, a good proportion are catered. (Remember, this is India: think outsourcing.)
Each day, about 5,000 dabbawalas deliver a total of roughly 200,000 meals - all through a hyper-efficient, color-coded supply chain that relies naught on technology. Their results are spectacular: a Six Sigma delivery rate! That's one slip-up in every 6 million deliveries - the vaunted and often elusive "six nines" quality. (And I'm guessing that, when there's a mistake, the mistakee ends up with a pretty good meal, anyway.)
In the dabbawala logistics system , dabba-gatherers pick up the lunches, which are in transported - via bicycle - to railway stations, where they're bucketed by destination, and placed on the train.
When they reach their destination, dabba-deliverers grab their buckets and get them to the office workers who ordered them.
All the dabbawalas receive the same rate - ghastly by our standards, but a way out of abject poverty for the poor, illiterate folks who hold these jobs.
Interestingly, dabbawalas have developed something of a business school cult-following - there's even a Harvard Business School case study about them.
Also interesting: although they don't rely on technology to work their supply chain, the dabbawalas are not lacking in tech savvy, and they have their own web site - www.mydabbawala.com - which you will be "warmly welcome[d]" to.
We the Dabbawalas , have been known to provide excellent services without any technological backup. However with the advent of technology and internet in particular we have decided to be part of this info way. On one part our core job of supplying the Dabbas to the people of Mumbai from their home to office will still be carried on without any technology or IT support but we will be using IT in general and Internet in particular to provide value added services to our prestigious customers.
For starters, they're using their site to make sure that complete and correct information about them is "passed on to the world." Apparently, they have plans to let people order their dabba online, as well.
Like the US Postal Service, dabbawalas are rain-snow-sleet-hail kind of guys - just substitute "monsoon" for snow-sleet.
The site is also used to promote the careers of the dabbawalas, noting their typical characteristics - hard working, honest, reliable, and low paid. "So its [sic] cost effective to employ a Dabbawala."
So in case you need to employ a person with these characteristics you may employ a Dabbawala. A Dabbawala may be recruited in many companies like security agency, courier industry , small offices , big companies,etc. The Dabbawala will be happy to get a better job and this will ensure good life for the family of Dabbawala.
Note: When a Dabbawala gets a job , first he has to bring a replacement Dabbawala in his place and then only he ,may join a company. This ensures that our system works properly.
Please contact us with your requirement to employ a Dabbawala. We will be very happy to serve you.
I guess that the closest thing we have to a dabbawala is the bicycle messenger, who ride pell-mell around city centers, scattering pods of wary pedestrians who may be foolish enough to step off the sidewalk on a one-way street and fail to look in both directions.
Somehow, I don't think that I'd ever actually hire a bicycle messenger. I would, however, consider hiring a dabbawala if I had the need. And, of course, if I lived in Mumbai.
I also wouldn't mind having a nice curry delivered just about now. Or a lamb vindaloo. Some nan. A couple of pakoras...