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Can only modern technology provide quality in business?

 article about Dabbawala
In the age of Internet, information is becoming the life-line for survival. If one measurable parameter of quality is in continuous improvement, then it is the quality of an organisation's information system that determines its effectiveness in the information age. Reliable and relevant data provides information about the health of the organisation. Here I want to put two notable examples of quality in the Indian context, who daily put the quality mantra into practice without much fanfare.

1. Dabbawalas

These are the men who deliver 175,000 lunches (or "tiffin") each day to offices and schools

throughout Mumbai (formerly Bombay), the business capital of India. Lunch is in a tin container consisting of a number of bowls, each containing a separate dish, held together in a frame. The meals are prepared in the homes of the people who commute into Mumbai each morning and delivered in their own tiffin carriers. After lunch, the process is reversed. Most of the dabbawalas are illiterate, but some of them have delivered lectures about their quality in top B-schools of India. BBC has produced a documentary on Dabbawalas. Though the profession of Dabbawalas seems to be simple, the logistics involved and the bussiness acumen used would baffle anyone.

Mumbai is a very crowded city with a huge flow of vehicular traffic. Hence, the working class population abstains from using the road transport and prefers rail transport. Also, one has to leave early in the morning to reach office on time, making it tough for house wives to cook lunch and breakfast together. Instead, they cook lunch leisurely and send the lunch boxes through Dabbawalas to their husbands. A Dabbawala collects, sorts, and bundles them into groups.

The grouped boxes are put in the coaches of trains, with proper markings to identify the correct destination of the box. The markings include the rail station to off-load the boxes, building address where the box has to be delivered, etc. At each station, the boxes are off-loaded and handed over to a local Dabbawala, who in turn delivers them to the appropriate address. The emptied boxes, after the lunch, are collected and sent back to the respective houses. All this is done for a very nominal fee and with utmost punctuality.

The work is known for its ingenuity, special codes and markings. The aluminium dabba had a "3" marked at the centre indicating its destination, Nariman Point. Along its sides, in red were written "12 MT 7" indicating 12th floor, office number 7 at Mittal Tower. The "10" at the bottom meant that the dabba had to be unloaded at Churchgate and the "K" adjoining the "10" stood for the suburb Kandivali, the home of the dabba. A new Dabbawala is initiated into his work by a couple of his seniors who take him along on his routes and explain the codes.

The boxes are transported with such perfection that the error rate is just 1 in 16 million. The American business magazine Forbes has given a Six Sigma rating for the precision. This rating indicates a 99.999999 accuracy percentage of correctness, meaning one error in every six million transactionsan astonishing degree of exactness. The service is uninterrupted even on the days of extreme weather. The local Dabbawalas at the receiving and the sending ends are known to the customers personally, so that there is no question of lack of trust. The Dabbawala never misses his address and is never absent

British Prince Charles, during his visit to India, expressed awe at the Dabbawalas tradition. He also inquired as to how they manage to work this way without using any modern technology.

 After impressing Prince Charles with their clockwork precision and managerial skills, the famous Dabbawalas or 'tiffin carriers' from Mumbai have taught some 'tricks of their trade' to over 1,000 Indian Institute of Management (IIM-Lucknow) students.

After winning numerous accolades for their unique style of functioning from across the globe, including Britains Prince Charles, Debashis Chatterjee, Professor of Indian Institute of Management(IIM) Lucknow, dedicated his Hindi version of his latest book, Light The Fire In Your Heart, to the Dabbawalas.  He is an internationally acclaimed author and Fulbright scholar at Harvard University.

Dabbas are the citys new advertising medium. In the last six months, Dabbawalas were appointed by Hindustan Lever for promoting Surf Excel, Star Plus (for a serial) and recently ICICI Prudential for a life insurance scheme. They just tie the mailers to the dabbas.  ICICI Prudential opted to use the Dabbawalas to talk to the customer because they deemed this a non-cluttered route, which would therefore have a higher impact.

2. Lijjat Papad

Papad is India's most popular crispy bread. It

Pappadstarted in 1959 as a small group of seven women who borrowed Rs 80 to start a papad business. Today Lijjat has more than 41,000 mostly illiterate women in 62 branches across 17 Indian states and now expanded its sales to over Rs 300 crores. Only women can become members of Lijjat, and all of its members, addressed as sisters, own the organization. Its also a Six Sigma company and they also have a website: www.lijjat.com

The concept of trusteeship (the worked also being the owner), first enunciated by Mahatma Gandhi, is the basic philosophy professed by the organization.

The Lijjat system did not collapse under the weight of its growing number of workers but, on the contrary, gathered strength from them. It's story is one of teamwork and profit-sharing. And they are exporting papads to countries that can barely place on a map, such as the US, UK and the Middle East.

The success of  Lijjat Papad lies, among other things, in its ability to offer self-employment opportunities to women at all its 61 branches. Any woman looking for work can approach any of Lijjats branches and join the 41,000-plus strong team of Lijjats sister-members without any fuss and earn Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 every month for her roughly six hours of work everyday from home. That such a system did not collapse under the weight of its growing number of workers but, on the contrary, gathered strength from them and became a shining example of a business based on the sound but apparently impractical Gandhian concept of Sarvodaya and trusteeship is the biggest surprise element in Lijjats success story. The company has grown into a corporation with an annual turnover of Rs 300 crore for many years.

There is greater coordination between branch offices (different production and marketing units) and centralised marketing, advertising, and exports departments. Transfer of finished products to centralised marketing offices from different branches was worth Rs 113.52 crore and ad-spend stood at Rs 2.55 crore for 2000-2001. All the centres are autonomous. Profits remain with the respective branches and are normally used to augment the business after a due share is distributed as extra vanai charge to sister-members.

The above mentioned are listed in Six Sigma companies in Asia, which include American Standard, Alcan Packaging, Trane, Thai Airways International, Seagate, Sony, Samsung, Toshiba, GE, Ideal Standard, Ford, Frabine . . . .



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