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Mumbai Dabbawallah Essay

4186 words - 17 pages

An Investigation study on the life and livings, organization and culture of the six sigma winners “Mumbai Dabbawallas”
Global Cuisine Reasearch Assignment
Arjun Singh Arora

Research Proposal

Research Question

An Investigation Study of the Life and Livings, Organisations and Culture of the Six Sigma Winners ‘ Mumbai Dabawalas’


The reason why I selected this topic is because I’m very fascinated towards the supply chain management line. I find this research interesting because the “Mumbai Dabawalas” are doing 4,00,000 transactions everyday without the help of any technology or educated manpower and are still able to deliver the tiffins on time and without any errors.
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There are 5000, largely illiterate, Dabbawala who use a complex system of symbols and home-grown business sense to move 260,000 lunches each day. The system is near flawless (one research paper put it as one screw up in 16 million successful deliveries) and has been going for over a century. Almost all of these men hail from a small village a couple of hours outside of Mumbai and because of the small town nature of things, almost all are somehow related. The unique shape of the city and cheap train network make it affordable for this system to work here and only here. And while it’s amazing to watch these men scurry about doing their job, what I was interested in is how this amazingly Indian concept has held on as long as it has. While fast food is booming as the only option for office workers in virtually every megacity in the world, in Mumbai it is the norm to have a fresh home cooked meal every day.

The system works a bit like this (and while I use gendered terms here the system is becoming less so, again in an interesting way). Man leaves in the morning to go to work at six to accommodate for the two hour commuter train to work. He wants lunch, so his wife would have to get up at four to cook it and send it with him. Instead, in rushes the Dabbawala, making it so that she can send off the lunch at eleven to get to the office at one, giving her an extra five hours of sleep. You subscribe to the service on a monthly basis – man on a bicycle comes by your house to pick up your tiffin (a stainless steel box or canister which everyone uses to eat out of), he hands it off to the next fellow at the train station, who hands it off to someone at the next train, to a sorter, to another bicycle or hand cart, to the office. A couple of hours later the Dabbawala picks up the Tiffin and the whole process happens again in reverse. The average Tiffin goes through the hands of five or six people in each direction. It has a specially designed colour and alpha numeric coding system which is their only mean of information about the owner of the the tiffin. Depending on how far away you live from the office, you can get deliveries for between 400 and 500 rupees a month (three to ten USD).

Now, while this used to be all men receiving and women cooking, it has expanded lots over the past couple of decades. Now about a quarter of the office workers receiving lunches are women. They deliver to schools. If you want to deliver to your husband, children, brothers, sisters, and cousins, you can send Tiffin’s to all of them. If you have no one at home to cook for you the Dabbawala have found homemakers who will be willing to cook extra meals on a subscription basis so that strangers can also have a home cooked meal and the home cooks can get a little bit of extra cash.
I am not the first or last person to marvel at this system. The whole organization organized itself (stemming from a demand during the British rule for home cooked meals that were British for...

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