Demystifying the Dabbawallahs: India’s Lean Food Delivery Operations Explained with Operations Management Practices


  • Kumaraguru Mahadevan1 (Central Queensland University, Australia)

The Dabbawallahs have been delivering home-cooked lunches to office workers in Mumbai, India, since 1890. There is a lot written about their success that the led to six sigma certification of their flawless service. Some authors have contradicted this certification. On the contrary, there may be other factors that keep the Dabbawallahs in the limelight. However, there are inadequate discussions about which aspects of their operations underpin their success. This research revealed that Dabbawallah operations could be interpreted with various concepts and theories. They include organisational culture, operations management tools, theories, operational strategies, techniques (JIT), and tools (LEAN and SMED). Moreover, Dabbawallahs are a cultural icon in Mumbai powered by their branding. However, it does not clear which of the concepts, practices, and theories impacts the Dabbawallah operations. The author conceptualised the “Dabbawallah four forces” model incorporating four components: cultural branding; organisation culture; strategy; and six sigma based on LEAN tool (PDCA). The cultural branding is the inertia in the food delivery operations that leads to achieving six sigma or operational excellence which in turn further powers its branding. Overall, the Dabbawallahs run a LEAN food delivery operation powered by its branding and are teaching big corporations about simplicity.

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