When Mumbai's tireless Dabbawalas became the first organisation in India and the second in the world to be awarded the coveted Six Sigma performance rating by Forbes magazine, one of them reportedly asked if it would be possible to share three of the ‘Sigmas' with the city's local train network and bicycles –– the two lifelines of their trade.
“Such is the selflessness, work ethic, and commitment of this community of semi-literate service providers that for them the appreciation of one happy customer is of far greater value than the string of national and international honours that have come their way,” Pawan Giridharilal Agrawal, a globally acknowledged expert on the Dabbawalas, said.
He was delivering a talk on the Dabbawalas at a programme organised by the Asian School of Business (ASB), in association with Young Indians (Yi), the youth wing of the Confederation of Indian Industry, here on Monday.
From a single Dabbawala and one customer in 1890, the network has grown to a 5,000-strong team of workers who deliver fresh home-cooked food to nearly 2 lakh people employed across Mumbai on time, every day, a press note issued here quoted Dr. Agrawal as saying.
Each Dabbawala works eight to nine hours every day, carrying a load of up to 60-70 kg and travelling nearly 70 km each way on Mumbai's notoriously crowded local trains.
In the 120 years of their existence, the Dabbawalas have never struck work, have never been involved in a police or court case, and have not let setbacks such as floods and terror attacks make a dent in their punctuality record.
“Great accent is laid on identifying and grooming the Dabbawala, team work is assiduously nurtured, and the word of the ‘mukadam' (group leader) is respected. There is no employer-employee relationship and you will find the president of the organisation on a railway platform on a workday morning with his share of dabbas (tiffin boxes),” he said.
Despite zero technological backup, such is the efficiency of their coding and delivery system that their error rate has been measured at one in 16 million transactions – a figure that continues to astonish management gurus worldwide. The community's success is owing to their unwavering commitment to a set of principles, the foremost among which are ‘Work is Worship' and ‘Customer is God.'
“Nothing and no one is allowed to stand in the way of a Dabbawala's daily routine. When Britain's Prince Charles expressed a desire to speak to them, he had to arrange his schedule to fit their timings and meet them at a place of their convenience, which happened to be one of Mumbai's footpaths,” Dr. Agrawal said.
Besides the fail-safe transport of food in tiffin boxes back and forth every day, the Dabbawalas provide what management textbooks describe as ‘value-added services.'
These include, but are not limited to, delivery of forgotten spectacles or wallets stowed inside the dabbas and messages sent back and forth between home and office.
After the lecture Dr. Agrawal gave away the trademark Dabbawala topi (cap) and miniature dabbas to members of the audience, which included schoolchildren.