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Have you heard of the Dabbawalas?

Mumbai Dabbawala or Tiffin Wallahs: 200,000 Ti...
Image by babasteve via Flickr

I’ve been meaning to post this fascinating article from the Economist about Dabbawalas:

Using an elaborate system of colour-coded boxes to convey over 170,000 meals to their destinations each day, the 5,000-strong dabbawala collective has built up an extraordinary reputation for the speed and accuracy of its deliveries.

According to the Wikipedia article, Dabbawala literally means “box person”, and they combine smart technology with a super flat hierarchy:

Although the service remains essentially low-tech, with the barefoot delivery men as the prime movers, the dabbawalas have started to embrace modern information technology, and now allow booking for delivery through SMS. A web site, mydabbawala.com, has also been added to allow for on-line booking, in order to keep up with the times. An on-line poll on the web site ensures that customer feedback is given pride of place. The success of the system depends on teamwork and time management that would be the envy of a modern manager. Such is the dedication and commitment of the barely literate and barefoot delivery men (there are only a few delivery women) who form links in the extensive delivery chain, that there is no system of documentation at all. A simple colour coding system doubles as an ID system for the destination and recipient. There are no multiple elaborate layers of management either — just three layers. Each dabbawala is also required to contribute a minimum capital in kind, in the form of two bicycles, a wooden crate for the tiffins, white cotton kurta-pyjamas, and the white trademark Gandhi topi (cap). The return on capital is ensured by monthly division of the earnings of each unit.