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Disruptive Opportunity

How the U.S. Census Bureau Reimagined its Portfolio

SECOND EDITION

by Susan Hostetter and John Walsh

U.S. Census Bureau

Washington, DC, USA

 



Executive Summary

This is the story of how one organization at the U.S. Census Bureau put in place portfolio management processes to reimagine and energize its core mission. The Demographic Statistical Methods Division (DSMD) at the Census Bureau relies heavily on work sponsored by other federal agencies and, in the disruptive reality of shrinking federal budgets, was facing increased competition from private sector and other federal service providers. This disruptive reality was a sink or swim opportunity for DSMD to improve how it competes for work and manages its resources.

To survive, DSMD had to enhance its portfolio by bringing in more research projects. To do this, it developed methods to elicit creative opportunities for research from staff, produced more accurate cost estimates and tracked the progress of the proposals as we presented them to our customers. Additionally, DSMD needed to do a better job managing its existing resources. It improved the WBS and project management methods to track cost expenditures, control project scope, and product delivery. It did this all under the constraints of the federal budget and federal hiring processes.

As a result, DSMD is now in a better place. The good news is that the creative proposal initiative has given DSMD increased stability in its operating budget across all programs. Additionally, DSMD is operating more efficiently. It has identified ongoing work, defined scope for each project, and has improved how it tracks costs, resources and deliverables.

Introduction

The U.S. Census Bureau, like many federal agencies, has had to contend with the double reality of budget reductions and Congress expecting the same amount of work despite the lower funding levels. Due to this, DSMD was facing a serious challenge: how to succeed in a market where there were fewer dollars for the statistical products it produced. Historically, DSMD has provided statistical methodological support for current demographic surveys conducted by the Census Bureau, as well as by other government agencies, through ‘reimbursable’ agreements. This was an especially challenging situation since DSMD competes for shared program money among other areas within the Census Bureau.

DSMD is unique in that it is supported by funding from multiple sources. This includes appropriated funding where DSMD has control over the scope, schedule, and budget and reimbursable funding from other government agencies and nonprofit entities through reimbursable agreements where DSMD does not have control over the scope, schedule, and budget and must act in alignment with priorities and needs of the external stakeholders. Additionally, DSMD faces constraints from the federal budget and hiring regulations. First, DSMD is constrained by the Federal budget process in that its funding cannot be rolled from one year to the next. It must spend a predetermined amount each fiscal year. Second, DSMD is constrained by the federal hiring process. DSMD is required to have steady (multi-year) funding for all of its positions in order to hire and maintain employment and the process to hire new employees is a cumbersome 6-month process.

Due to its particularly diverse portfolio and federal budget and hiring constraints, DSMD encountered challenges in how it solicited, planned, prioritized, and performed work. DSMD elicited work from sponsors that were independent of each other and with little visibility across the whole portfolio of sponsors. This process failed to ensure that the proposed and agreed to work was the ‘right size’ for DSMD staffing level and it contributed to the DSMD challenge of not being able to efficiently align budget and staffing with the work performed. These problems in turn led to missed deadlines, work products of poor quality and, eventually, the loss work to other government entities and private contractors. This became the catalyst for reimagining DSMD’s portfolio process.

Before things continued out of hand, the PMO in DSMD, in cooperation with the leadership group, decided it was time to take a step back and look at DSMD’s portfolio from the top down and see where they could make changes and improvements.

More…

To read entire paper, click here

 

Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English. Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright. This paper was originally presented at the 11th Annual UT Dallas Project Management Symposium in August 2017. It is republished here with the permission of the authors and conference organizers.



About the Authors


Susan Hostetter

U.S. Census Bureau
Washington, DC, USA




Susan Hostetter
, PMP, is a Project Manager in the Demographic Survey Methodology Division (DSMD) at the U.S. Census Bureau in Washington, DC, USA. She has spent twenty plus years at the U.S Census Bureau as a data analyst and project management professional. She has been instrumental in standing up and improving risk management, project management, portfolio management, strategic planning, and performance management processes for multiple Census and Survey programs. She received her undergraduate degree in Business Administration and Economics at Mary Baldwin College and her Master’s degree in Project Management from the University of Maryland’s University College. Susan can be contacted at [email protected]

 


John Walsh

U.S. Census Bureau
Washington, DC, USA

 

 

John Walsh, PMP, is Chief of the Management Operations Office in the Demographic Statistical Methods Division (DSMD) at the U.S. Census Bureau in Washington, DC, USA. As a project management professional over the last 10 years, he has been instrumental in introducing project management processes across large-scale programs across the Census Bureau, including the Economic Census, as well as the Current Demographic and Current Economic survey programs. He received undergraduate degrees in Economics and Criminology & Criminal Justice from the University of Maryland at College Park. John can be contacted at [email protected]