Teresa Lawrence has worked as a school superintendent, a project manager, a subject-matter expert in integrating creativity and Creative Problem Solving (CPS) into project management, and is a certified Project Management Professional. She provides training and facilitation in the application of creative problem solving, process evaluation and project management. Since 2017 over 45K project managers have participated in Teresa’s trainings, workshops, presentations and webinars, which has earned them PDUs as a result. Additionally, she offers consulting and professional services in project management and agile mindset development, and provides keynote addresses at various events.
She is the president of International Deliverables, LLC, a NYC certified Woman Business Enterprise and 2019 Small Business Administration Home-based Business award winner. She previously served as VP for Certification with the local Buffalo chapter of PMI and is a current member of PMIs Registered Education Provider Advisory Group and Board Trustee with the Creative Education Foundation (CEF).
Teresa is an alum of the International Center for Studies in Creativity (ICSC) at Buffalo State College. In 2016 she received the Women of Influence award by Buffalo Business First, the Distinguished Alumni award by the University at Buffalo Graduate School of Education and the Distinguished Service Award from the New York State Parent Teacher Association.
PMTips: Here with us today is Teresa Lawrence, who is a trainer, keynote speaker, a Project Management Professional, and facilitator of Creative Problem Solving into project, program and portfolio management.
Teresa, welcome. Thank you for doing this interview. We are honored to have you with us today.
Teresa Lawrence: Ana, it’s absolutely my pleasure to be with you, and contribute and support and bolster the project management community.
PMTips: That’s wonderful. You have many years of experience in education and training and you have worked as a project manager almost your entire career. Currently, you are the president of a company that offers process facilitation and project management consulting and training services. What inspired you to bring your experiences from both fields together and combine it into your current work?
Teresa Lawrence: I’ve been a lifelong project manager, more often than not by title and not by credential. So, I finished my career in public education as a super-intendent of schools, and that required oversight of a $60 million organization, numerous projects to include, substantial capital projects, rolling out of services, rolling out of programs, producing many deliverables. Along that path, always what we know with projects are problems, stakeholders, ambiguous challenges that come up in our work. And so I decided to do two things, and that’s transition from the work of public education and formalize my skillsets, both as a project management professional as well as a skilled facilitator of creativity and creative problem solving. By doing so I can help, and I do help, project portfolio program managers, all across industries and all across methodologies, have processes to be able to find creative solutions, solutions that are novel and useful, on demand to the challenges that they face in their project. So, I chose to leave one industry, to serve industries (plural, more) by substantiating my skillset as a project manager with the integration of creative problem solving. And since I’ve done that, September of 2017 was when I started this work, and well over 45 000 project leaders and individuals have benefited in some capacity from my training and facilitation in their work.
PMTips: Problems arise often during the project life cycle and now, more than ever, the problems that project managers encounter demand that they be creative. Can you tell us more about the intersection of Creative Problem Solving and project management and the positive effects it has on the overall project results?
Teresa Lawrence: Sure. So, PMI, the Project Management Institute, identifies creativity, effective decision making and problem solving as core competencies across all their certifications. And so, the work that I do is help folks frame and reframe, clarify the challenges that they face in their problems, then ideate and develop and implement solutions to all of these ambiguous and challenging and out-of-nowhere problems they encounter. In a nutshell, creativity is defined as the production of something that’s novel and useful. Project management, on the other hand, is defined as creating a unique deliverable that’s bound by time. When you intersect those two, you’re able to increase substantially the value realization of the deliverable that your project is intending to deliver. So again, looking to do that which PMI says, I explicitly train in that which they want and the end result is folks’ ability to frame, reframe and then develop novel and useful solutions to the challenges, any challenge that comes up or that’s inherent in their project.
PMTips: That sounds really interesting. How can project managers apply Creative Problem Solving into their project, program and portfolio management work?
Teresa Lawrence: The best and most effective problem solvers know to separate ideation from evaluation. The field of creativity and creative problem solving has been studied for about 60 years and its origins are at the International Center for Studies in Creativity, form which I am an alum. So, the number one thing that folks could do, again, is to realize the importance of separating ideation – generating ideas – from evaluation of those ideas. And if they could learn the dynamic balance between the two types of thinking skills, divergent thinking for generating ideas and convergent thinking for evaluating ideas, they would increase their productivity and their value immediately. I present workshops that range from 3 days to 3 hours, and in the end when individuals, again, have the ability to separate thinking about solutions and developing solutions, they increase their productivity.
PMTips: How important is it for professionals that aspire to become project managers to acquire any of the PMI’s certifications and what are the benefits for project management professionals to keep earning PDUs after obtaining such certifications? In addition, can you tell us about the benefits that your training offers?
Teresa Lawrence: So, I think, Ana, skill is one thing, title is one thing, and a credential, being credentialed in an industry, is another. When you incorporate skill, title and credential, you separate yourself in the field. Just because you’re certified doesn’t mean you’re going to be a competent project manager, but what it does guarantee is that you’re highly trained in methodology, in a mindset, in a culture that embraces effective project management. So, I think there is great value in any industry that you present yourself as credentialed as possible – that’s my personal belief. I also then think, however, having skill is important so that you can actually action the work. I love this quote, “Creativity is the defeat of habit by originality”. And I think that if you are a project manager that is credentialed, that is skilled and that is always increasing their training, you separate yourself from others by a reputation of approach and a reputation of solid resolution to the common and ambiguous problems that project managers face.
PMTips: What are the benefits for companies when working with a PMP? How does it affect the overall project outcome?
Teresa Lawrence: Organizations that work with a project manager, a certified project manager, stand a better chance of having a higher quality individual. I’m not saying a better individual, I’m just saying a differently qualified individual. Here’s the comparison I’ll make: just because I would put a band-aid on you, I would never suggest to call myself a doctor, and just because I would use skillfully an Excel spreadsheet to manage bills, I would never suggest to call myself an accountant. So, becoming credentialed, working with somebody who is trained, who has professional licenses, credentialing them in an industry, ensures that a company would have an individual that knows the process, that has the skillset and the toolset to complete the work.
PMTips: Working within cross-functional teams can be quite challenging. Would you say that there is a certain approach that project managers can undertake that would help them better lead and direct such teams?
Teresa Lawrence: Yeah, absolutely. I work with all kinds of organizations and institutions, in project management, not-for-profit and government, all types of organizations. And if we learn the dynamic balance of creativity and divergent thinking and convergent thinking, one of the things that we’ll learn are a variety of tools. And the tools that we want in this case with cross-functional teams are to skillfully develop these tools and techniques for providing feedback, for developing ideas, for giving quality thoughts and reframing of the concerns we might have from ideas that allow the ideas themselves not to be squashed or the originator. So, using skillfully tools of creative problem solving we can manage conflict management, we can negotiate feedback in a way that’s more productive, we can develop ideas, and ultimately what we’re able to do is build team capacity. Through creative problem solving we have the opportunity for ideas to be heard. I always like to say ideas don’t have feelings, people do. So, if we have a process that lets teams give all of their ideas out, and then skillfully transition to a process that would allow us to select and develop them, we have a greater sense of buy-in, of inclusivity, of consensus. What we have as a result then is a more skilled and a more engaged team, regardless of culture, industry, language and if they’re collocated, not collocated or even cross-functional.
PMTips: You will be hosting two sessions with PMI at their prestigious SeminarsWorld in Chicago, scheduled for this July, and then in Houston in November. Could you tell us a bit about the topics that you will be discussing? What can visitors hope to come away with?
Teresa Lawrence: So, I will be offering that training with Dr. Roger Firestein, who has trained more people in the creative problem solving process in the world than anybody else. He and I will be providing two full and complete days of the training, the application of creative problem solving and the dynamic balance between divergent thinking and convergent thinking and their complete and total application to the project management industry, regardless of industry and regardless of discipline. Folks will also be able to learn how to frame and reframe the challenges that they face, so that I can uphold my mission in life, and that is to help project leaders become underwhelmed by the perceived enormity of the challenges they face. The sessions will be highly engaging, they always are, highly interactive, and folks will have tools and skills that they can apply immediately to their work and their personal lives.
PMTips: Great, I hope that someday I will have the chance to attend some of your sessions.
Teresa Lawrence: Great. Well, I’m also putting in proposals for PMI’s Global Conference and their PMO Conference, so, increasingly, my work on projectmanagement.com and other conferences, and folks are coming, so perhaps we’ll have the opportunity to work together in the future, that would be great.
PMTips: Yes, I’m looking forward to it. What would your advice be to all women in leadership in general and more specifically to all women that work as or wish to become project managers?
Teresa Lawrence: I would say get certified. Research shows that when women look at a job posting, if they don’t feel as if they have 80 percent or more of the skills required, they don’t apply for the jobs. Men, on the other hand, are less critical of their skillsets, and if they remotely see that they have some of the skillsets, they will apply. So, I would encourage women to do two thing, one – get certified. Secondarily, certainly work to achieve the skills, the experience, the network, [that’s] number two. And thirdly, apply for the jobs. Do the work, don’t ever let your job title get in the way or interfere with you being able to showcase your skillset and achieving the work for which you are responsible.
PMTips: That is very encouraging. Many project managers have to deal with unexpected, complex and ambiguous problems in their work. Is there a way to recover and redirect a troubled project to the path to successful completion?
Teresa Lawrence: Absolutely, and I help organizations all the time. The way that we need to that is frame, possibly reframe what the problem, what the challenge was, to be sure that what we are solving is, in fact, the right problem. You know this to be true, Ana. There are times that you have a problem and you put a solution in place only to have that problem show up again. So, one of the things that we do in creative problem solving is ensure that we have crystal clear clarification on what the problem is or was, so that when we are ideating for solutions and developing solutions and implementing solutions, they are, in fact, appropriate and just for the ‘real problem’ as opposed to the perceived problem. Secondarily, what we want to make sure that we always do is capture those lessons learned – somebody, most likely, has encountered a similar project to us before, we should be listening, learning and reading about that before we embark on our work.
PMTips: Well, that was the last question. Thank you for the interview. It was a real pleasure.
Teresa Lawrence: Thank you. My pleasure as well. I look forward to any feedback that listeners [and readers] may have. I will certainly incorporate my contact information so that if folks have questions, I can be of additional assistance.
PMTips: Yes, of course. Thank you very much.
Teresa Lawrence: Ana, thank you so much.
Interview conducted by Ana Mitevska