Lessons from a Bank Robbery

Willie Sutton, the infamous bank robber, was once asked, “Why do you rob banks?”

As legend has it, his response was “Because that’s where the money is!”

This past week, in the idyllic college town of Amherst just up the road from where I live, two people robbed a local bank.  As reported in our local newspaper, the (alleged) robbers were caught a short time later.

It should come as no surprise they were caught.

Their getaway vehicle?

They hailed a local cab.

Witnesses at the scene saw them get in the cab, the police were able to find a cab through the taxi company, and arrested the robbers 15 minutes later.

Tales of early bank robberies tell similar stories of bungled heists.

Let’s face it:  robbing a bank is a complex, multi-part project.  The taxicab thieves of Amherst failed to manage their project well.

When you think of a well-organized bank robbery, you probably think of movies like “Ocean’s 11/12/13”, or gangsters like John Dillinger.

The lineage of all of these robbers, both fact and fictional, goes back to one man:  Herman Lamm.

Lamm is considered the father of the modern bank robbery.

After an early career “apprenticing” as a horse-holder with Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch, Lamm became an officer in the Prussian Army in WWI.

After the war, Lamm returned to robbery.  But with his military experience under his belt, he modified his robbing approach.

Lamm now believed a heist required all the planning of a military  campaign, with a full range of options to allow for unforeseen developments. He rehearsed his team the way a drill sergeant drills his platoon.    He would “case” banks, drawing up floor plans, assigning roles, etc.  Each team member had specific responsibilities.  The whole operation had to run on time with utmost precision.   They’d even practice in an offsite location that was mocked up to look like the bank interior.

Lamm and his gang were the most successful bank robbers of their era.  His techniques were adopted worldwide.

While they might seem completely different, bank robbing and working our day jobs have one common denominator:  both involve successfully completing projects.

In our companies and on our jobs, we all have projects to manage and complete.

Different people bring various skills to project management.

Some use the “taxicab” approach:  do it as it comes, deal with stuff as it arises, and react to the project as it unfolds.

Some use the “Lamm technique”:  thinking through and planning the whole project in advance.

Which one do you use?

How’s it working for you?



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