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Building a Tiger Team

Digital Solutions For Entrepreneurs

When it comes to solving a big problem, a big team is not always the answer. Enter “tiger teams.” A tiger team is a small, specialized, cross-functional team that aims to solve or investigate a specific problem or critical issue. The term tiger team originated in the military and was made famous in the 1960s by NASA during the Apollo 13 emergency when a diverse team of experts worked to solve several unique and complex problems to bring the Apollo crew safely back to earth.

Tiger teams can be ad hoc teams brought together to bring an astronaut crew home safely or, more generally, a standing core group that moves from one problem to another.

UPMC Enterprises uses tiger teams to dive deep into some of the largest challenges facing health care. Keep reading this article to learn about the methodology and how you can build your very own tiger team.

Identify the problem

Before you can dive into building your tiger team, you must identify the reason for the team’s creation. Typically, it is to address a broad and complex issue facing your business or your industry. Tiger teams are small, agile, and can make and act on a decision with both speed and precision. Making them an appealing option when critical issues arise. Tiger teams approach a problem from multiple perspectives, making it easier to identify the most critical and high-priority items.

For Carly Cook, Senior Product Analyst at UPMC Enterprises and veteran tiger team member, it’s important to start with a game plan to make a tiger team as productive as possible.

“Stay focused on your problem and make sure that you know what you want to get out of it at the end,” Cook said. “Is it a direction recommendation? Is it just to learn more information? Is it to take the beginning steps on developing your own solution? From there, set clear milestones along the way, and establish where you want to be when it’s over.”

Selecting your team

Who you assign to your tiger team will depend on the team’s objective and the problem that needs to be solved. During this phase, it is important to identify what kind of skills you will need. For example, a highly technical problem may require a team stacked with more engineers and developers. A tiger team built specifically for the health care space will vary but it may include individuals from the following teams:

  • Product
  • Business Development
  • Operations
  • Engineering
  • Clinical Champions

Keep in mind that while this is a team of specialists, each person should have a broad range of skills. By building a roster of “the best of the best,” you reduce skills gaps, blind spots, and increase agility. Including team members with hyper-nuanced specialties without broader experience can lead to bloated headcounts and slower maneuvering.

One of the most crucial elements for a tiger team in health care is a clinical champion. Your clinical champion will be a specialized physician or researcher who has the bandwidth to be able to validate the team’s findings and help provide a unique perspective on a problem they face day in and day out.

“Your clinical champion is key,” said Randall Dye, Associate Product Manager at UPMC Enterprises and Dementia Tiger Team member. “When we were exploring the dementia space, we worked a lot with Dr. Adele Towers. She is a geriatrician who has helped Enterprises on projects before. She works very closely in this space and sees the target problem frequently. She was crucial to helping us to navigate the dementia space and was our point of contact for specialized contacts and more.”


Whatever you’re forming a tiger team for, it is important to map out as much as you can before your employees or colleagues begin diving into a complex issue. Start thinking about things such as timing, milestones, deadlines, responsibilities, and more.

Once you have a map in place, it may look something like this:

Phases: Research, Analysis, Ideation, Validation

Timeline: 6-8 Weeks

Design Design will explore the desirability of products and what the solution will look like.
Business Business will explore the market and financial considerations in the problem space as well as the viability of the solution.
Engineering Engineering will examine technical feasibility and will identify barriers and opportunities.
Clinical Champion The Champion will help the team understand the problem space, help validate findings, and match the best solutions to customer needs.

“The point is to identify where the problem might lie rapidly and what the opportunity might look like,” said Dye. “It is important that the team stays focused on the problem at hand. Given how wide the project scope can be, it can be easy for the team to veer off into 100+ different directions at any given time.”

“When you’re able to go deep on things, you’re going to uncover a lot of problems,” Cook said. “It can be hard to figure out which problem takes priority. As a team, we must regroup and refocus on the original problem we wanted to go after.”

Wrapping up

In most cases, problems facing health care are not simple. They are often large in scope and multi-faceted. When approaching a problem, an Enterprises tiger team takes the following steps:

  1. Observe and document problems and their impact.
  2. Identify probable causes.
  3. Develop tests to validate those causes.
  4. Decide which tests to perform based on organizational/clinical priorities.
  5. Test until root cause is confirmed.
  6. Outline viable solutions.
  7. Implement solution or recommendation.
  8. Document results.

After the phases of your tiger team have wrapped up and the team has either a solution or a recommendation, it is important to spend time on the phase that Cook calls “post tiger team.” During this phase, the team should prepare final deliverables and determine a timeline for next steps.

The Takeaway

Whether your tiger team is looking to solve some of the biggest challenges facing health care, or simply looking for a new way to approach a business problem, tiger teams are vital for solving high-impact issues and can generate novel ideas with speed and precision.

Could you be the next member of one of our tiger teams? Join our team or let us know about your innovative approach to a challenge facing health care.

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