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What is a Tiger Team Approach?

The Apollo 13 mission might not have ended successfully if it weren’t for a Tiger Team. As the crisis in space developed, a team of highly specialized NASA engineers worked tirelessly on the ground to solve a complex set of problems and guide Apollo 13 home to safety. It was a defining moment in history, and the team’s efforts saved three legendary astronauts and defined a new approach to problem solving. In part two of our series, “5 Ways to Ensure the Success of Your Complex Technology Deployments,” we’re taking a closer look at Tiger Teams and the role they play in accelerating technology deployments and mitigating complications.

What Are Tiger Teams?

Tiger Teams are highly skilled, hand-picked groups of people who are tenacious about problem solving. While the term originated at NASA, and the most famous instance is undoubtedly the Apollo 13 Tiger Team (they did, after all, receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom), the term is now generally applied to a high-functioning team of specialists who come together to complete a specific project.

Because every deployment is different, our choice of teams for each client is based on the skills needed in each unique situation. While subject matter expertise is a prerequisite for inclusion on a Tiger Team, the teamwork element is equally important. Participants must have the ability to collaborate, share ideas openly and solve problems together so they maximize the combined power of their skills. For that reason, star players who work best independently are not necessarily the best Tiger Team members.

Why Tiger Teams Work

Tiger Teams go to sites that are business-critical from either a revenue or brand standpoint to make sure new technology launches without a hitch. Without sending in a Tiger Team first, you could expose a multi-location deployment to many risks. In complex deployments with no margin for error, that’s a recipe for delays at best, disaster at worst.

On the surface, it seems that a Tiger Team might increase deployment costs. Highly skilled specialists are expensive, after all. However, the opposite is true. Tiger Team members become experts in the customer environment, and the insight they bring to deployments at successive locations speeds up a deployment. Time to market and revenue improve. Costly rework issues also tend to decline when Tiger Teams are used. However, Tiger Teams aren’t right for all deployments. While they work in any industry, they’re best for companies with the extensive geographical footprints and multiple locations for which team learnings result in overall savings. Clients also must be willing to go as fast as the team can, and giving up control over a deployment schedule can be daunting for some. Finally, while they can be effective in any type of deployment, they are particularly good for technology retrofits and rollouts in existing locations.

Making Tiger Teams Roar

Here are four steps to ensure that your Tiger Teams deliver:

  • Step 1: Alignment. From the site assessment and initial action plan, make sure the full team (internal and with partners) knows the goals of the project and the technology involved.
  • Step 2: Deployment plan. Map out the best way to implement the plan on-site and anticipate how to handle complications that may arise.
  • Step 3: Document. As the first hands-on part of the process, document the install process, recommend the correct kitting, and record steps to troubleshoot complications that could be universal to all deployments.
  • Step 4: Disseminate. The knowledge gained (good and bad) during these deployments is spread to the other deployment teams so each install goes with minimal disruption.

With Tiger Teams, we’ve found that how you go about solving problems matters more than the problems themselves. Tiger Teams are highly effective not just because they have technical expertise, but also because they know how to use that expertise in concert and in context. That’s a process and skill set that can take years to hone, and not all companies invest in the quality of their teams to that extent. But in the long run, it’s worth it.