Stephen Colbert has good news for project managers.
The Comedy Central faux-news commentator recently featured Bre Pettis, who runs MakerBot Industries, a 3D Printer manufacturer.
3D printers don’t actually ‘print,’ they layer. Based on a 3D specification, the printer forms an object by spreading thin layers of plastic – the same kind used in LEGO blocks. See it to believe it! (Colbert interview with a brief commercial introduction.)
While Colbert didn’t actually mention project management, the advent of this new manufacturing technology will add another sector of the economy that relies on project management as a key skill.
MakerBot is the everyman’s 3D printer, priced at under $2000. But everything you see in Colbert's demonstration is being done on a larger scale commercially, and sophistication is growing rapidly.
Manufacturing companies have typically employed project managers to lead product development activities. Dramatic technology change, such as 3D printing, means that more manufacturing will be custom work; and as anyone in our industry knows, “custom equals project.” So in addition to new product development, manufacturers will need people with the skills to communicate with customers and coordinate delivery of custom orders.
The Economist magazine has gone so far as to label this shift in manufacturing, “The Third Industrial Revolution.” They point out that this is good news for employment in rich, industrialized nations where we have a taste for custom products and a workforce capable of responding to this trend. We won’t see a resurgence in low-skilled jobs that were shipped overseas, but those aren’t really the basis for prosperity in the decades ahead anyhow.
Don’t look for a boom in project management hiring right now. In fact, the project manager job title may not get more popular. But this “third industrial revolution” is more evidence that the skills and knowledge to deliver custom work are essential for our innovation economy.