Reflections & Resolutions

I don’t write about myself a lot. As we start 2018 (and as I return to writing on a regular basis) I’m going to make an exception to that.

The start of the year is a magical and important time for many people. Second to Labour Day (and connections of returning to school) it is when we think about reaffirming commitments, reorganizing or just plain starting over. We review, we reflect and we resolve to do things differently. And in a perfect year, those resolutions take hold.

As many have realized (or just inferred) the past few months have been difficult and complicated. I’ve had a number of personal challenges to work through, some dealing with me and some relating to my immediate and extended family. While for a period I attempted to keep writing, that pretty much fell by the wayside as fall began to turn to winter.

As a new year starts, I’m reconnecting with my purpose and my sense of focus. I’ve spent time evaluating and assessing where I’ve been, as well as contemplating and considering where I want to go from here. In the spirit of several other writers I follow that do a year end check-in or “state of the union,” I thought I might do the same.

While it’s been a difficult year, it has also—to some degree—been an exceptional year. I’ve been busy, and the work that I’ve been engaged in has been interesting and varied. I have worked on assignments related to strategy, project management and change management. I have contributed to the building of a business case that challenged preconceived notions and helped an organization rethink what was possible and desirable. I’ve helped an internal support organization reinvent itself and develop a consulting mindset. I’ve worked with a municipality to help redesign how they think about managing projects in a way that resonates and responds to their culture.

I’ve made the comment before, but it holds true as 2017 ends and a new year begins: despite the challenges, hurdles and difficulties that the least year has presented, I have been doing some of the best work of my career. That’s a pretty awesome thing to be able to say, and a more awesome thing to be able to experience. The results we’ve been able to attain and degree to which my clients have been thrilled with these results has also been incredibly rewarding.

One of the primary conflicts of the past year has been the pressure to be in multiple places at once. I live in Ontario now, but I still have a strong presence—and several clients—in Alberta. I routinely joke that my commute to work is either 60 seconds as I walk downstairs, or 6 hours as I get on a plane. As my client base grows in Ontario, the challenge of needing to be in two places grows with it.

Significant for me as well has been the termination of a working partnership that had thrived for more than fifteen years. Our collaboration in delivering advanced project management programs with the University of Alberta ended this year. The economic downturn over the last few years has resulted in lower enrolments than we would like. We restructured the program early last year, and relaunched it with critical success last spring. Despite signs of growth appearing on the horizon, though, the expectations of the University were different than ours. It’s sad to see an era end, but I close that chapter knowing that what we accomplished and delivered was pretty exceptional.

As 2018 begins, I’ve been turning my thoughts and attention to the inevitable question of, “What’s next?” The answer to that is a blend of what I know, what I hope for and what I’m not yet quite sure about.

I start the year blessed with knowing I have client work on two fronts. I know that I will be back and forth to Alberta a few more times over the coming months. I’ve been working on a significant project management implementation for a couple of years now with an Edmonton-based client. That will be continuing through this year, as we start to transition responsibility internally. And I’m continuing to work with a client in Ontario on a significant change management implementation. That’s a great base, and it’s rewarding to have that amount of certainty already about the year to come.

I’m continuing to research and explore the worlds of strategy and projects, and of how we manage—and manage in the face of—complexity and uncertainty. It’s become increasingly clear to me that there is a real disconnect in how we conceptually think about projects and project management, and how we manage them in the real world. The structure and clarity and hard lines that project management promises on paper simply don’t add up to the fuzzy messiness of how change actually happens. Rethinking and reframing this has been a central part of my research and writing for a while now, and that will continue.

My plans of what shape this work will take are still forming. I know I’m going to miss being in the classroom now that the advanced program has wrapped up. I can envision a new program rising in its place, although probably with a different format and structure, and a different exploration of content. There is very likely another book brewing as well, although my hopes for this year are around building a plan and developing a structure; I imagine it will be 2019 before something is actually published.

My regular posts here will continue, as will the newsletter. It’s been hugely rewarding to receive feedback (often in emails, and occasionally in person) about the newsletter and how valuable people find it and I’m recommitting to getting it out on a regular basis going forward. Peter and I will also still be offering the Technobility webinar series, and that will continue to be a monthly project for us. Peter launches the year this month, and I’ll be returning to the microphone in February. I’ll also be doing my monthly Project Headway webinars for projectmanagement.com. All of those will be announced in the news section of this site, and if you’re a newsletter subscriber you’ll get updates landing directly in your inbox.

There is new work that will emerge over the course of the year as well. A friend and I have been exploring how we manage, lead and cope in the face of complexity. That work has a lot of relevance on a number of fronts (not least of which helping me through the last few months personally). We’re both arriving at a place where we are ready to focus on it more deliberately and consciously. I can confidently say that you’ll see aspects of that become visible in different ways and avenues in the coming months.

Ultimately, while it’s been a year of challenge, it has also been a year of progress. I’m looking forward to continuing that progress in 2018. I can confidently say that things will happen that I won’t expect, and that whatever my plans are, what actually emerges will be different. But I go into the new year excited to face the challenges and explore the opportunities that will inevitably present themselves. I am hopeful that the year ends as brightly and positively as it is beginning. And I sincerely wish the same for all of you.

2 Comments to “Reflections & Resolutions”

  1. Jim Duggan says:

    Welcome back Mark! I freely and somewhat embarrassingly admit that I do not keep up on many of the e-newsletters I receive, however, yours is one I truly enjoy receiving and reading. This article is a nice personal reflection and a great reminder to keep a positive attitude and that there always opportunities if we are open to seeing them.

  2. Mark Mullaly says:

    Thanks so much, Jim. And it’s very nice to be back.

    It’s certainly hard to keep up on everything we want to (my rationalize is it speaks to an alive and curious mind, so that’s a good thing)!

    Nice to know that I have a firm place in your (very large) reading pile. Looking forward to keeping the contributions coming. Hope you are well, and happy new year.

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