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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.
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.
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. 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
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". 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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. Tiger teams can also be brought in externally typically for a single test of either the physical site security of information security intrusion.
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.
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. 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. 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. The military also forms more traditional tiger teams much like other government agencies.
- The NSA Cyber Defense Tiger Team (Red Cell) is a tiger team that was created by the National Security Agency
- The NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC), when requested by a project or program, puts together "tiger teams" of engineers and scientists from multiple NASA centers to assist solving a difficult or complex problem.
- The Gray Team, which existed from 2009 to 2011, was tasked with improving the medical care of American forces serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially from posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Popular culture and media
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.
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- 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
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