Back in the day, job description was king. Consultants consulted, designers designed, and technologists built. But today, a new breed of talent is emerging: professionals with cross-functional skill sets who can work across the digital spectrum.
Consultants who understand design. Tech experts who are in tune with business mind-sets. Creatives who can also bring eagle-eyed analysis to the table.
These multi-talented team members reflect a concerted effort on the part of forward-thinking companies and schools to empower individuals with a wider skill set and more agility in an era of lighting-fast digital change. From tapping new integrated master’s degree programs to cross-teaming on projects where everyone is encouraged to have a voice, regardless of job title, organizations are building flexible, insightful teams that can jump in at any point from conception to execution.
“Gone are the days of handoffs from team member to team member,” says Tom Puthiyamadam, principal and global services leader for PwC. “Now it’s about having people who can work together at every stage to take ideas to market with speed and thoughtfulness.” To succeed, he says, companies must break down silos, enable integrated teams to work together throughout the process, and create clear, specific goals.
“We call this philosophy BXT, which stands for ‘Business, Experience, and Technology,’ ” he says. “It helps team members discover new ways to work and think about business, the user experience, and technology. It’s about exposing people to skills and ideas they’re not necessarily used to, which enables them to think unconventionally, inspires creative solutions to complex problems, and encourages more seamless interaction.”
The teams of the future will be “multilingual”—adept at understanding technology, fluent in business, and able to contribute on the creative side. “People with multi-faceted skill sets will lead the digital age,” Puthiyamadam says. “Companies that embrace this new way of working and skill-building are creating the next generation of C-suite leaders.”
A different type of collaboration
While the idea of integrating teams with vastly different groups of specialists might raise concerns about a culture clash, in reality, the opposite is true, says Jonathan Israel, a senior product manager at Takeda Pharmaceuticals.
Understanding a patient’s journey is a critical component of bringing new treatments to the market—managing conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease is especially difficult given the complexity of the disease and uniqueness of each patient. Takeda understood a clear need in improved dialogue between patients and physicians through simplified tracking of symptoms and communication of symptoms to doctors.
PwC brought in a team that included creatives, technology experts, analysts, and consultants to develop a digital solution—a group that felt different from the “typical” consulting team, says Israel. “The development team could not be more opposite in how they functioned and their processes … there were these different cultures and different people who were clearly coming from different worlds that brought important perspectives together.”
Together, the team brainstormed and developed a digital solution—an app that helps patients consistently and easily track their symptoms via their phone or Apple watch throughout the day, and then compiles the information and sends it to the patients’ doctors so they can see trends over time and monitor their disease.
The project was successful, says Israel, because the solution went to the heart of what makes a digital transformation successful: It created a new experience for patients—in this case, it helped create an open and objective platform for both patients and physicians to use when discussing symptoms.
Agile degrees for agile grads
Recognizing the need to prepare workers for a multi-faceted career, colleges and universities have begun to offer innovative programs geared toward promoting agility. While tech-focused MBA programs, like those offered at MIT, NYU and Stanford, have been around for years, design-focused MBA programs are a more recent development. In 2008, the California College of the Arts created what it says is the first MBA in Design Strategy. The program “fosters the new type of creative leader,” the school says, combining elements of design, management, technology and production.
At the Illinois Institute of Technology, students can now pursue two graduate degrees simultaneously, a dual Master of Design and Master of Business Administration. And more recently, the University of Southern California began offering a Master of Science in Integrated Design, Business and Technology. Instructors work in cross-disciplinary teams, brainstorming and developing solutions to design, business, and technological challenges, and using data and research to create a portfolio of problem-solving approaches.
What does it mean for team members?
Individuals looking to thrive in this multidisciplinary world of work need to look for ways to expand their skills. Education and “upskilling” isn’t only happening through formal degree programs. Professionals can expand their talents through open source and certificate programs, such Udacity. But increasingly, employees are learning on the job.
And while organizations can make training and other learning opportunities available, employees must focus on intangibles, too. “How can you be a continuous learner?” asks PwC’s Puthiyamadam. “Are you a true collaborator? Do you know how to use social capabilities to solve problems? If you don’t have that mindset, it doesn’t matter what training you take.”
The benefits are manifold. By helping people develop and understand multiple skills, organizations are better positioned for digital transformation—agile team members with broad skill sets are often better equipped to handle change. And as the competition for talent intensifies, one way to attract prospective employees is to offer them the opportunity to develop their abilities outside their area of expertise.
This, with the agility to move across business, experience, and technology, is the future of problem solving—and innovation.
This story was created with and commissioned by PwC Digital Services.