Publication Date



2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


This paper reports on the initial implementation of a two student “tiger team” in an engineering capstone design class. A tiger team is a small group of individuals that covers a range of expertise and is assigned when challenges arise that helps address the root issues causing the challenge. The term was coined in the 1960’s in the Cold War; tiger teams are used in industry, government, and military organizations. While tiger teams in these situations are usually formed around an issue then disbanded, in the capstone class the tiger team was formed for the duration of the two semester long class; details on formation and the larger context and organization of the class are discussed in the paper. The rationale for the tiger team was the observation over many years of a capstone class that as projects are functionally decomposed and subsystems assigned to individual students, a not insignificant fraction of students become “stuck” at some point in time – the concept of “stuckness” is further derived in the full paper. The result is that if delays accumulate on critical parts of the project, teams often struggle to get the project back on track and end up with a cascading series of missed deadlines. The rationale for the tiger team is to help teams identify when parts of the project are getting behind schedule and to have additional, short-term help available.

In the initial implementation described here, the tiger team was two students—one from electrical and one from computer engineering—who volunteered for the position and were confirmed in that role by the other students in the class. Initial data shows that during the problem identification phase of the project the tiger team attended team meetings, helped evaluation project milestone reviews, worked to solve individual and team issues, and regularly met with the faculty. Early in the semester the two tiger team students described their role as unclear and worried their technical exposure would be limited. Later, as the teams developed technical representations, the tiger team provided independent feedback and addressed multiple technical challenges. Finally, as teams started to build technical prototypes the tiger team role again shifted to helping individuals with specific aspects of their project’ this role continued throughout the remainder of the year-long course. This in-depth case-study of the experience of implementing a tiger team draws on observations from students, faculty, the tiger team members, and an external ethnographer. This work may help other capstone instructors who may be considering similar interventions.


Conference Paper


Electrical Engineering

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©American Society for Engineering Education, 2023

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