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A description of Mumbai’s lunchbox delivery industry.

The 5,000 or so dabbawalas in the city have an astounding service record. Every working day they transport more than 130,000 lunchboxes throughout Mumbai, the world’s fourth-most-populous city. That entails conducting upwards of 260,000 transactions in six hours each day, six days a week, 52 weeks a year (minus holidays), but mistakes are extremely rare. Amazingly, the dabbawalas—semiliterate workers who largely manage themselves—have achieved that level of performance at very low cost, in an ecofriendly way, without the use of any IT system or even cell phones.


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    My natural response here is to compare this to my job, and to the description rsaarelm linked of a food plant. We don’t have the rapid-fire series of deadlines that the dabbawalas do – our shift has one deadline per day; other shifts have a few more, but that doesn’t make much of a difference – but unlike the food plant, we do have extensive cross-training: everyone is expected to learn all the basic job functions. There’s specialization in practice, but if the system goes down for three hours and everyone needs to be thrown at making up for lost time so we don’t miss the deadline, everyone can be thrown at that with no problem.

    And I mean everyone. The highest-level manager in the entire building has come out to do the same stuff we make barely over minimum wage for, because the deadline necessitated the addition of a few more labor-hours.

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