A Tiger Team and Its Breakthrough—The Pathfinder

https://triplecrownleadership.com/tiger-team-in-action/A Tiger Team and Its Breakthrough—The Pathfinder
A Tiger Team and Its Breakthrough—The Pathfinder

In our last post, we wrote about Tiger Teams–temporary special action teams created and empowered to attack problems and exploit opportunities.

Bob first witnessed the power of alignment and flow with the Pathfinder team at Monarch Marking Systems. In the early 1980s, retailers were rapidly adopting bar codes to scan at checkout. Rather than fight bar codes, Monarch had decided to reinvent itself as a bar-code printing company.

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Monarch had just introduced a large, rather clunky, bar code printer, the size of a small desk, and the next logical step was to develop a smaller, tabletop version. Monarch’s vice president of research and design, Bud Klein, suggested the company outsource the development of the tabletop version and leapfrog the competition by developing the world’s first handheld bar code printer.

Such an endeavor was risky and unheard of. The company would need new ceramic materials, electronics, and miniaturized computer processors. Many of the technologies were only available experimentally in Japan.

At the time, the development cycle for a product of such complexity was three to four years. Bud proposed a Tiger Team in which the company would radically empower a cross-functional team of committed volunteers to launch this breakthrough product in eighteen months to set the industry standard. If the team botched it, Monarch risked losing its industry leadership in price-marking machines.


How It Worked

Monarch’s management relieved the Tiger Team members of all other work and administrative task. The team would have no set hours. They were also promised their old jobs back regardless of the results. They worked in special quarters and were given clear goals in this priority order:

  1. Operate by the company’s newly defined shared values
  2. Launch in eighteen months
  3. With certain defined functionality
  4. For a targeted unit cost
  5. At a specified total program cost

Bob delegated to the team all his CEO authority to spend, sign contracts, and hire and fire. The members of the team only had to meet the goals while operating by the shared values. It was the biggest challenge of their careers, a real moonshot, and the buzz on the team was electric. The team members were totally aligned and focused, and they threw themselves into their work.

Soon operating in flow under a young engineering manager, Jim Vanderpool, they launched the Pathfinder on schedule and within budget. It became one of the most successful products in the company’s history, still sold in updated versions today and foreshadowing today’s wave of mobile devices and smartphones.

At the end of the project, no one on the Pathfinder team wanted to return to their old job or ways of working. They had been unleashed. They had succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They’d had fun, felt pride, and experienced flow. They were changed forever in how they approached work.

So Bob and his staff reinvented Monarch, deploying such empowered Tiger Teams whenever possible. A new ad campaign, a new manufacturing process, a new company charitable campaign. Empowered teams. The old org chart which froze people into positions was gone.


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Note: This is an edited version of a story that appeared in our book, Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations.

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Bob Vanourek and Gregg Vanourek are leadership practitioners, teachers, and award-winning authors. They are co-authors of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, a winner of the International Book Awards. Check out their Leadership Derailers Assessment or get their monthly newsletter. If you found value in this, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

https://triplecrownleadership.com/tiger-team-in-action/A Tiger Team and Its Breakthrough—The Pathfinder

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