Using "Red Team vs. Blue Team" to Improve Quality

The “red team vs. blue team” approach has long been used in military, security, cybersecurity, and business settings. It typically features a “red team” tasked with testing assumptions, identifying vulnerabilities, and role-playing from adversarial perspectives, to see whether a “blue team” can adequately defend prevailing ideas.

Can this concept be applied to quality improvement?

The purpose of any robust Quality Management System (QMS) is to establish controls to identify and eliminate, or mitigate, risks to consistently fulfilling customer requirements and any established expectations (commitments) relating to the provision of products and/or services.

In the context of quality improvement, the “Red Team” would identify quality-related risks, which “Blue Team” would address (e.g., through developing controls to mitigate or eliminate those risks).

Creating your Teams

Red Team
The best people to identify risks are observant, analytical, critical thinkers who take pride in their work… and refuse to “cut corners”. Some managers hold and promote a completely delusional view of the world - which they mischaracterize as optimistic or “positive”. And these managers often mischaracterize anyone who recognizes “reality” as pessimistic or “negative” (always imagining the worst). To be clear, we aren't seeking pessimistic or “negative” people for “Red Team”, but rather people who are able to recognize and acknowledge “worse case” scenarios as possibilities. Red Team members must be able to clearly and specifically define each risk.

Blue Team
The best people to address risks are those who view themselves as “fixers”. People who enjoy the challenges of being a “problem-solver”. These “fixers” tend to be creative/inventive and able to “think outside the box” through exploring a variety of options. They're more concerned with finding the “best” solution rather than “being right”… and they welcome a critique of their proposed solutions.

The Tools

In order for each team to do its job, it must be equipped with the right tools.

Red Team Tools
Contrary to popular belief, “Brainstorming” alone is an incredibly poor methodology/tool. In order to be effective, “Brainstorming” must be structured. Some great tools, to begin with, include the Ishikawa (fishbone) diagram incorporating the “5 Ms” with an additional “M” for physical environmental conditions (“Mother Nature”). These six elements influence variation in virtually all processes—whether manufacturing or providing services.

Blue Team Tools
Some of the best problem-solving tools are some of the least known. For example, TRIZ provides a comprehensive “toolbox” for innovative problem-solving and continuous improvement.

You can learn more about TRIZ at: