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Tuesday, January 14, 2003

What's so great about a 6 Sigma certification? Here is the latest Indian 'Industry' to feature in Forbes Magazine...

Mumbai's "tiffinwallahs" have achieved a level of service to which Western
businesses can only aspire. "Efficient organization" is not the first
thought that comes to mind in India, but when the profit motive is given
free rein, anything is possible. To appreciate Indian efficiency at its
best, watch the tiffinwallahs at work.

These are the men who deliver 175,000 lunches (or "tiffin") each day to
offices and schools throughout Mumbai, 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. And what a
process - in it's complexity, the 5,000 tiffinwallahs make a mistake only
about once every two months, according to Ragunath Medge, 42, president of
the Mumbai Tiffinmen's Association. That's one error in every 8 million
deliveries, or 16 million if you include the return trip. "If we made 10
mistakes a month, no one would use our service," says the craggily handsome

How do they do it? The meals are picked up from commuters' homes in suburbs
around central Mumbai long after the commuters have left for work, delivered
to them on time, then picked up and delivered home before the commuters
return. Each tiffin carrier has, painted on its top, a number of symbols
which identify where the carrier was picked up, the originating and
destination stations and the address to which it is to be delivered. After
the tiffin carriers are picked up, they are taken to the nearest railway
station, where they are sorted according to the destination station. Between
10:15 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. they are loaded in crates onto the baggage cars of
trains. At the destination station they are unloaded by other tiffinwallas
and re-sorted, this time according to street address and floor. The 100
kilogram crates of carriers, carried on tiffinwallahs' heads, hand-wagons
and cycles are delivered at 12:30 p.m., picked up at 1:30 p.m., and returned
where they came from.

The charge for this extraordinary service is just 150 rupees ($3.33) per
month, enough for the tiffinwallahs, who are mostly self-employed, to make a
good living. After paying Rs. 60 per crate and Rs.120 per man per month to
the Western Railway for transport, the average tiffinwallah clears about
Rs.3,250. Of that sum, Rs. 10 goes to the Tiffinmen's Association. After
minimal expenses, the rest of the Rs. 50,000 a month that the Association
collects go to a charitable trust that feeds the poor.

Superb service and charity too. Can anyone ask for more? Comments: What is
wonderful about this system is that it extends the design and uses the
tiffinwala, the end user and their cognitive and memory structure as well.
Since one tiffinwala is not going to pick more than 10-20 Tiffin, he can
easily sort recognize at the originating station and deliver it to the
owner. Also within a building, the tiffin wala knows which floor to deliver.
Within a floor a owner can recognize his Tiffin amongst others. Thus these
Tiffins carry only * A symbol (not name) of the originating station * A
symbol for the destination station * A symbol for the building where the
addressee is. And what is more amazing is that this is run by people, most
of whom are illiterate.

Salaam to the Spirit of Mumbai !!


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