Sunday, September 04, 2011

"Dabbawallah?"

Picture this: a same-day delivery service that gets it wrong only one time in six million. A multihub shipper without paper trails, routing items from multiple sources to multiple destinations (and back again, same day!) using a cleverly-simple number/letter/color code. And it happens in a nearly "flat" organization, only three levels total from the guys who deal with customers to the tippy-top -- oh, and to work there, you have to "buy-in," by contributing actual working hardware.

Maybe you've never heard of them but Prince Charles has -- and timed a visit to Mumbai so he could meet dabbawallahs in that tiny mid-day window of time when they've got time.

Here's a glimpse of what they do:

Yes, they're runnin' lunch from Mom or wife to family members working outside the home or attending school, and doing it with Six-Sigma reliability (and nary a bloviating pep-session about it, either -- 'cos there are lunches to get delivered!)

Started out during the Raj; seems some of the office-working Brits in-country weren't all that happy with their nearby tiffin options and wanted a little something home-cooked. Where there's a will (and some cash), there's a way -- and it was a way Indians could pick up a few rupees from their "overstaying guests," too. But it turned out to be one of those things that, once set up, grew to bring in a steady income on tiny fees.

Probably plenty to be learned from a close study of their methods; certainly some aspects are unique, while others ought to be as familiar as the sadly not-quite-vanished* American milkman. When the pundits speak of "high trust" societies or business cultures, this is what they're talking about.
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* See comments; there are a few real delivering dairies left.

4 comments:

John A said...

As an aside, the milkman (milkperson?) has not entirely vanished. Here in Lil' Rhody the Munro Dairy still runs a fleet of home delivery trucks, and supplies an insulated container to sit on your stoop/porch.

Drang said...

Smith Family Farms here in South Martin Luther King County still delivers, too.

This is the sort of thing that lefties love to point to, as "proving" that people in Third World Countries are "smarter than us." If we needed something like this, we'd have it, if it wasn't regulated to death.

Roberta X said...

"...if it wasn't regulated to death..." Among other things, the pay is not all that great -- but it sure beats nothin'. But I can think of dozens of reasons regulators would trip up a directly-modeled service in someplace here like, oh, Boston or DC, where it might have a chance to work.

I don't think they're any smarter than any other cross-section of humanity but it's a darned clever set-up, an example of what humans will come up with when they're motivated.

A little digging turned up a presentation (in a non-English language but the slides were labeled in English) on the routing codes: address (shorthand) to train station, one station to the next, then building, business and floor; each step is a flat sort with its own color and most steps are a handoff from one group to another. It falls out that most sortings are small batches, with the biggest ones being aboard the train. No step ever sorts deeper than absolutely needed to get them to the next step. (That tip alone is worth remembering).

Robin said...

I think we studied the addressing system in a computer science theory class way way back in my days as a Comp Sci grad student.

(Yeah, I know ... I practice law now - my resume is a horror)