“Our performance efficiency is 99.9999% – six sigma ranking. We have 5,000 members working in coordination. Out of 400,000 transactions every day, the error factor is 1 in every 20,000,000” said the President of a service organisation.
This is the organization which collects lunch boxes (dabbas) in the morning from the homes spread over 60 by 30 km city called Mumbai. These lunch packs are then delivered to their owners working in various nooks and corners of Mumbai. Post lunch, they collect the empty boxes and get them back to the respective houses by the same evening
This organisation is not a giant corporate like IBM, Wal-mart or Coca cola. Almost all its members are illiterate and school drop-outs. It has functioned for over 125 years and gets only more efficient by the day.
The process is extremely complicated and needs perfect coordination. They don’t use technology nor do they use fuel-driven vehicles. They work on foot or use cycles and suburban trains to transfer the boxes over 65-70kms every day, making it a 100% eco-friendly system. It is a perfect example of the most complicated job done in the simplest way.
To provide better coordination and thus efficiency, the delivery people are divided in different groups. In the process, the dabbas change hands 6 times. But they have a system to ensure there is no mix-up in the process. Their lack of education has not held them back in following the best lessons taught in the world’s top ranked management schools like Harvard, Oxford and so on. On the contrary, this set-up is taken up as a case study by the said schools.
They believe in fixed prices. No favours or bias in price.
There’s no gossip at work. Even when Prince Charles wanted to talk to the members, they refused to have a discussion with him while they were on duty. Their working impressed him so much, that Prince Charles invited two of them to his marriage in 2005 at par with Queen of Gwalior.
Each member carries aprx 40 dabbas (boxes), weighing 60 to 65kgs on their head most of the day. For each building, one delivery person is assigned the responsibility of collecting the boxes. These boxes are then assembled at the local suburban train station, and are reallocated to groups based on the destination train station.
At the destination stations, the boxes again are regrouped to specific building (And floor of building in some cases). Freshly cooked meals are thus delivered from home to the customer within 3 hours commute over foot, cycles and train.
As one can imagine they had to develop a system to identify which box needs to be go where. They introduced the most practical coding system which is marked on each box. It identifies who would collect each box from which building in which suburb. The code also includes who would deliver information – right down to the floor of a particular building. This coding system can be understood by the most uneducated person and at the same time leaves an almost zero margin for error!
They have also created a cost free advertisement system for themselves. Every member has to wear the white cap which by itself has become a logo. This identification has proven to be a boon as they are blocked by no authority/security. Everyone respects their need for punctuality to ensure the boxes reach the office employees well in time for lunch.
All members have to strictly follow the rules and any deviation attracts a penalty. For example, if a delivery person is found on duty without a cap or any customer makes a complaint against them they are penalized the same day. Penalty has to be paid the same day to be able to continue with the delivery, the next day.
They do not have any employer-employee relationship. Each member is a shareholder and hence a stake holder in the operation. They have had no labour strike during 125 years of the association’s existence. The punctuality, complaint record and output all count towards their share of pooled funds and reward. They are all part of an association which collects a small fee every month, which in turn is fully donated for a social cause.
Minimum overheads and optimum output is the lesson I learn from these hard-working dabbawalas.
This example proves that literacy and technology is not essential to achieve perfection. It is whole-hearted devotion and the right attitude which matters most.
Written : Badri Baldawa