Tiger team

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A tiger team is a diversified group of experts brought together for a single project, need, or event.[1] 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.

The metaphor of a tiger comes from the power and agility of the teams and their ability to "pounce" into action. 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. Tiger teams began as specialized units to test computer security for the military and the aerospace industry. These teams were specifically hired to determine how easily an organization's security measures and data could be accessed or hacked. When successful, members of the tiger team would usually leave behind notes with messages such as "busted" or "your code book has been stolen" to indicate that the system had been penetrated.[2]

Tiger teams were traditionally made up of expert hackers who had experience in attacking remote networks and secure communication channels. The members were regarded for their willingness to break the rules and their ability to think outside of the box and work beyond an organization's boundaries in order to ensure security and protection.[2] These teams were originally focused on espionage and spying, but have transformed and expanded over time to solve a wider variety of problems for businesses and organizations today.

Program Management in Design and Development[edit]

A 1964 paper entitled "Program Management in Design and Development" introduced tiger teams and 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".[3] The paper consists of anecdotes and answers to questions from a panel on improving issues in program management concerning testing and quality assurance in aerospace vehicle development and production.[4] One of the authors was Walter C. Williams, an engineer at the Manned Spacecraft Center and part of the Edwards Air Force Base National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Williams suggests that tiger teams are an effective and useful method for advancing the reliability of systems and subsystems in the context of actual flight environments.

Apollo 13[edit]

A tiger team was crucial to the Apollo 13 lunar landing mission in 1970. During the mission, part of the Apollo 13 Service Module unexpectedly malfunctioned and exploded.[5] A team of specialists was immediately formed to fix the issue and bring the astronauts back to earth safely. The team was led by NASA Flight and Mission Operations Director Gene Kranz.[6] Kranz and the members of his "White Team", later designated the "Tiger Team", received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their efforts in the Apollo 13 mission.


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 physical or information security. In this context, the tiger team is often created internally to work in perpetuity since security is typically an ongoing effort in an organization.[7] For example, one implementation of an information security tiger team approach divides the team into two co-operating groups: one for vulnerability research, which primarily finds and researches the technical aspects of a vulnerability, and one for vulnerability management, which primarily manages communication and feedback between the team and the organization, as well as ensuring each discovered vulnerability is tracked throughout its life-cycle and ultimately resolved.[7] Tiger teams can also be brought in externally typically for a single test of either the physical site security of information security intrusion.[8]


Tiger teams have seen extensive use in governmental organizations. They are often used for assessment of compliance with and efficacy of existing policies as well as creating proposals or recommendations for future policies. In the United States, governmental tiger team recommendations have directly influenced laws and policies in the national government.[9]

Most of the United States federal executive departments have used tiger teams to some extent. One of the largest governmental initiatives involving tiger teams was implemented by the Department of Energy (DOE) under then Secretary James D. Watkins. From 1989 through 1992 the DOE formed tiger teams to assess 35 DOE facilities for compliance with environment, safety, and health requirements. Beginning in October 1991 smaller tiger teams were formed to perform follow up assessments to focus on the most pressing issues in a more detailed manner.[10] Tiger teams are still being used by the DOE, though not to the same extent.


The use of tiger teams in the military may have roots in physical security and counter-espionage. Teams were formed to test military base security through attempts to access restricted areas without detection, steal classified materials, and leave analogues for incendiary or explosive devices.[11][8] This is likely the origin of the use of the term in computer security circles where hackers attempt to follow similar measures with computer systems.[8] The military also forms more traditional tiger teams much like other government agencies.


Popular culture and media[edit]

Mick Herron's 2016 novel Real Tigers features an incursion into a British security service building, orchestrated by the Home Secretary of the day.[15]

The popular comic strip Dilbert released a published strip on May 11, 2010 making fun of the name and concept of specialized tiger teams in the workplace.[16]

In 2007 the Tiger Team featured a tiger team that was hired to test for electronic, psychological, tactical, and physical threats and vulnerabilities for organizations.

The 1995 Apollo 13 movie featured a scene where a tiger team was quickly formed by employees at NASA to solve a crisis with the spacecraft.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Miller, Marilyn; Armon, Rick (June 6, 2016). "University of Akron announces new "Tiger Team" to address enrollment slide, finances, leadership issues". Akron Beacon Journal. Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Tiger Teams: The Next Frontier of Teaming - New Directions Consulting". www.newdirectionsconsulting.com.
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ "Login - SAE Mobilus". saemobilus.sae.org.
  5. ^ "Apollo 13 Accident". nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov.
  6. ^ "Gene Kranz A Blast from The Past" (PDF). Retrieved August 29, 2017.
  7. ^ a b Laakso, Marko; Takanen, Ari; Röning, Juha (1999). "The vulnerability process: a tiger team approach to resolving vulnerability cases". Proc. 11th FIRST Conf. Computer Security Incident Handling and Response. Brisbane, Australia: CiteSeerX: 1–2, 6. Retrieved 28 September 2016.
  8. ^ a b c Boston, Vin Mclellan; Vin Mclellan Writes About Computers From (1989-01-15). "HACKER FOR HIRE: Peter Goldis; Looking for the Loopholes". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-02-11.
  9. ^ "PRESS RELEASE: US Congress and Administration Want PNT Resilience – eLoran Highlighted «  Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation". rntfnd.org. Retrieved 2017-02-13.
  10. ^ Ziemer, P. L. (1992-01-01). "The Department of Energy Tiger Teams; analysis of findings and plans for the future".
  11. ^ "the definition of tiger team". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 2017-02-11.
  12. ^ "Cyber Defense Exercise 2008 - NSA Video Transcripts - NSA/CSS". Nsa.gov. 2009-01-15. Archived from the original on 2012-03-02. Retrieved 2012-01-08.
  13. ^ "Benefits of a One NASA Organization in Solving Program and Project Technical Issues". Lessons Learned. NASA. 2004-05-07. Archived from the original on 6 March 2016. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
  14. ^ Hamilton, Jon. "How a Team of Elite Doctors Changed the Military's Stance on Brain Trauma". All Things Considered. NPR. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  15. ^ ISBN 9781473621213
  16. ^ "Dilbert Comic Strip on 2010-05-11 - Dilbert by Scott Adams". Dilbert.
  17. ^ "YouTube". www.youtube.com.

External links[edit]

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.