11.16. The Dabbawalas of Mumbai

Indian Lunch Box System

By Pratibha Rathore, December 2014.

Overview. The Mumbai dabbawala tiffin service is the source of much fascination from around the world, and I am no different: I worked in Mumbai for two years and used the services of dabbawalas to get my lunch box (called a “dabba”) delivered from home to my office, which was about 44 miles away. Without the use of any technology or digital resources, this organizing system has been coordinating the delivery of home-cooked lunches to thousands of Indian office workers for over a century, charging just a small fee of $3-7 per month. The community of dabbawalas has been able to create value for its customers by optimizing and standardizing the principles of its operations and devising an organizing system that is down to earth and human-centric.

What is being organized? The primary resources in the dabbawala system are the dabbas that are delivered to respective customer’s offices and organized using a simple but effective color-coding system. The secondary resource is the workforce, consisting of 5,000–6,000 people known as dabbawalas, who organize themselves and their supporting supply chain and logistics operations to deliver the dabbas to the right location and at the right time each day without failure. The dabbawala community, called the Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association (MTBSA), follows a flat organization structure, meaning the motivation to perform consistently is a ...

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