Ideas & Debate

Project management lessons from Nairobi bank robbery

Managing people. Embrace the Swahili proverb that states “Hakuna siri ya wawili”. File
Managing people. Embrace the Swahili proverb that states “Hakuna siri ya wawili”. File 

The CIA had an opening for an assassin. After all of the background checks, interviews, and testing were done there were three finalists — two men and one woman.

For the final test, the CIA agents took one of the men to a large metal door and handed him a gun.

“We must know that you will follow your instructions, no matter what the circumstances. Inside this room you will find your wife sitting in a chair. You have to kill her.”

The first man said, “You can’t be serious. I could never shoot my wife.” The agent replies, “Then you’re not the right man for this job.”

The second man was given the same instructions. He took the gun and went into the room. All was quiet for about five minutes. Then he came out with tears in his eyes. “I tried, but I can’t kill my wife.” The agent replied, “You don’t have what it takes. Take your wife and go home.”


Finally, it was the woman’s turn. She was told to kill her husband. She took the gun and went into the room. Shots were heard, followed by screaming, crashing and banging on the walls.

After a few minutes, all was quiet. The door opened slowly and there stood the woman. She wiped the sweat from her brow and said, “You guys didn’t tell me the gun was loaded with blanks. I had to beat him to death with the chair.”

Last month we were regaled by an amateurish attempt to orchestrate a Hollywood mimicked robbery from a bank using a pick up van that had been painted in the logo and colours of a well known Cash In Transit (CIT) security firm.

The perpetrators drove into a branch of Co-operative Bank and allegedly walked away with Sh80 million that was meant to be collected by the regular CIT crew for placement in ATMs around the city. At last count at least 15 people had been charged in court with charges relating to the robbery, a number of who were bank employees.

This presents a perfect case study of project management, or rather, how not to manage a project with big risks.

Step 1: Start with the end in mind. Knowing full well that if the project succeeds, the police will be all over the investigation like white on rice, assume that a campaign of misinformation is likely to be launched.

Such misinformation will obviously start with the amounts that were taken. A Sh40 million heist could easily be reported as Sh80 million primarily to entrench deep suspicion at the point where the loot is being divvyed up. The results of such misinformation are obvious. Anyone involved and resentful of their pitiful remuneration that is not commensurate with the risks taken will be highly inclined to make an anonymous phone call to reveal the whereabouts of the project managers.

Thus it is imperative to ingrain among all involved that what they read in the media is calculated to divide and rule and hence an audit of actual amounts stolen will be undertaken immediately upon completion of the project.

Step 2: Determine the best resources to use especially with regard to people and materials.

While, using an insider may be mission critical, the said insider may not always be the sharpest tool in the box and may already have a warning letter or two in their HR file and are therefore on a performance watch list or may simply lack the temerity and gumption to go ahead with a full blown crime.

Attempt to use the “shoot the wife” test (as highlighted above) on such candidate to see if they pass. As far as materials are concerned, leaving the getaway vehicle in the middle of the busy Upper Hill suburb within minutes of the robbery instead of driving it into the Athi Kapiti plains and setting it ablaze to burn into smouldering ash is bound to provide vast amounts of critical evidence, including fingerprints and hair follicles. Such evidence will take CSI, Nairobi’s crack unit of DNA experts, minutes to unravel at their state of the art crime lab and attribute who the owners are.

Step 3: Embrace the Swahili proverb that states Hakuna siri ya wawili, which loosely translated means there is no secret if more than one person is in the know. Use this proverb judiciously in determining the scope of the project and exactly how wide a net you need to cast in drawing all the necessary parts together.

Less time

Acquiring a stolen pick-up, getting it painted with a well known security company’s colours and logo, accessing uniforms of the security company’s personnel, hiring administration police uniforms (at least that’s what the media reported) from a real — but errant — administration police officer(s), figuring out the movement of the real security van and ensuring you don’t bump into the genuine crew as well as calculating the pro rata share of wallet for all involved based on risk versus return requires at the very minimum the use of Microsoft Project software to align all the moving parts.

Remember to delete all computer files at the completion of project.

Finally, Step 4: Time and Money are key elements of any project. As such, the returns from the project have to be significant enough to warrant the risks, time taken and the initial capital outlay required to obtain all the necessary resources.

It thus makes sense that the project was undertaken on the first of the month, when cash required to fill the ATMs would be at its highest in line with salary withdrawal behaviour of bank customers. However, the rate at which suspects were picked up within hours of the project’s execution speaks of the fact that sometimes the time required to revel in the spoils of war is conversely related to the money generated: The more money you make the less time you have to spend it.