Tiger team

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For the Court TV/TruTV television series based on a tiger team, see Tiger Team (TV series).

A tiger team is a diversified group of experts brought together for a single project, need, or event. They are usually assigned to investigate, solve, build, or recommend possible solutions to unique situations or problems. They are almost always populated with mature experts who know what's at stake, what needs to be done, and how to work well with others. Their strengths are diversity of knowledge, a single focus or purpose, cross-functional communications, decision-making sovereignty, and organizational agility. Once their venture is completed they cease to be a team and usually go back to their previous assignments.

The metaphor of a tiger comes from the power and agility of the teams. There are no limits to their size, reasons, or purpose parameters. They may be assigned to locate new knowledge sources, create an impactful event, or form an exit plan. The scope of their work may be very large or very small. They may be a team for a few days, or for many years. They may meet regularly, frequently, intermittently, or rarely.

The concept originally came out of early NASA innovations for solving technical or systemic problems. A 1964 paper defined the term as "a team of undomesticated and uninhibited technical specialists, selected for their experience, energy, and imagination, and assigned to track down relentlessly every possible source of failure in a spacecraft subsystem."[1]


In security work, a tiger team is a specialized group that tests an organization's ability to protect its assets by attempting to circumvent, defeat, or otherwise thwart that organization's internal and external security.


One of these was set up in NASA circa 1966 to solve the "Apollo Navigation Problem". The motivation was the discovery that current technology was unable to navigate Apollo at the level of precision mandated by the mission planners. Tests using radio tracking data from unmanned Lunar Orbiter spacecraft to evaluate circumlunar Apollo navigation were revealing errors of 2000 meters instead of the 200 that the mission required to safely land Apollo when descending from its lunar orbit.
For example, Apollo astronauts were practicing landings in safe areas using the simulators at Houston. A tenfold increase in this error-bound implied a hundredfold increase in the target area, which then included unacceptably dangerous terrain. The mission was seriously at risk.
Five tiger teams were set up to find and correct the problem, one at each NASA center, from Caltech JPL in the west to Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in the east. The Russians via Luna 10 were also well aware of this problem.
There was an intentionally competitive aspect to this strategy, which was "won" by JPL in the spring of 1968 when it was shown that the problem was caused by the unexpectedly large local gravity anomalies on the Moon arising from large ringed maria, mountain ranges and craters. This also led to the construction of the first detailed gravimetric map of a body other than the Earth and the discovery of the lunar mass concentrations (Mascons).[5]

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  1. ^ J. R. Dempsey, W. A. Davis, A. S. Crossfield, and Walter C. Williams, "Program Management in Design and Development," in Third Annual Aerospace Reliability and Maintainability Conference, Society of Automotive Engineers, 1964, p. 7–8.
  2. ^ "Cyber Defense Exercise 2008 - NSA Video Transcripts - NSA/CSS". Nsa.gov. 2009-01-15. Retrieved 2012-01-08. 
  3. ^ "Benefits of a One NASA Organization in Solving Program and Project Technical Issues". Lessons Learned. NASA. 2004-05-07. Retrieved 6 November 2015. 
  4. ^ Hamilton, Jon. "How A Team Of Elite Doctors Changed The Military's Stance On Brain Trauma". NPR. All Things Considered, NPR. Retrieved 23 August 2016. 
  5. ^ Paul Muller and William Sjogren (1968). "Mascons: lunar mass concentrations". Science 161 (3842): 680–684. doi:10.1126/science.161.3842.680. PMID 17801458

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This article is based on material taken from the Free On-line Dictionary of Computing prior to 1 November 2008 and incorporated under the "relicensing" terms of the GFDL, version 1.3 or later.