Taming the Tsunami

Governance Strategies for Project Portfolio Management



Susan Hostetter and Sherri Norris

United States Census Bureau

Washington, DC USA




Executive Summary

The U.S. Census Bureau has made project portfolio management a priority for its programs over the past five years. The best known program at the Census Bureau is the population census that is conducted every ten years, but there are other large program areas at Census, such as IT investment, survey methods research, and economic and demographic survey areas, that manage hundreds of projects within their portfolios. Each area has a unique set of programs, projects, investments, stakeholder and oversight obligations and each faces a tsunami of project information produced by its portfolio of projects. For example, the 10-year Census is a $15 billion program with a high volume of technical projects and investments that face extensive internal and external oversight, the IT area has the responsibility of managing IT investments without direct funding for IT purchases, and the economic and demographic areas have hundreds of small survey programs with a multitude of funding sources and customers.

To manage these different portfolio situations, each area has developed governance strategies to handle the management demands of their project portfolios. This paper and presentation will profile project portfolio management challenges common to all organizations and provide governance strategies from the Census Bureau that will help other organizations to tame their tsunami of project information and ensure that their leaders have the right information for decision making. We will cover governance strategies that successfully gain and maintain traction and discuss why they work.


What do we mean by “Taming the Tsunami?” Every organization has a mission and a vision either stated explicitly or implicitly and the projects and activities within the organization that are for the mission and vision, intentionally or unintentionally. These projects and activities are the moving parts of the organization and each requires attention and maintenance to run smoothly. Leadership’s job is to guide, direct and manage those parts through information, a constant flow of information, a literal tsunami of information.

A leader can be overwhelmed by the information or a leader can implement governance structures and strategies to “tame the tsunami” of information. Project portfolio management is a collection of processes and methods to select, direct and manage the tsunami of project information that competes daily for leadership attention. It is a governance structure that will collect, channel and control all project information within a portfolio so that leadership can make data-driven decisions about the organization’s activities to achieve mission goals and outcomes and strategic goals for future vision. This is what we mean by “Taming the Tsunami,” it is a deliberate leadership process to drive decision making for strategic mission and vision outcomes through the use of project information.

Why Project Portfolio Management?

Why would an organization invest time and resources into portfolio management? We talked to program managers involved in portfolio management at the Census Bureau and our conversations uncovered the challenges and business impact that would lead them to implement portfolio management. We have characterized them into the following statements:


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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 12th Annual UT Dallas Project Management Symposium in May 2018.  It is republished here with the permission of the author and conference organizers.

How to cite this paper: Hostetter, S. and Norris, S. (2018). Taming the Tsunami: Governance Strategies for Project Portfolio Management; presented at the 12th Annual UT Dallas Project Management Symposium, Richardson, Texas, USA in May 2018; published in the PM World Journal, Vol. VII, Issue IX – September. Available online at https://pmworldjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/pmwj74-Sep2018-Hostetter-Norris-Taming-the-Tsunami.pdf


About the Authors

Susan Hostetter

Texas and Washington, DC, USA



Susan Hostetter, PMP, is a Project Manager at the U.S. Census Bureau in Washington, DC, USA. As a data analyst and project management professional, she has been instrumental in standing up and improving PMO processes for risk management, project management, portfolio management, schedule management, cost management, performance management and strategic planning. Her papers have been published in the PM World Journal and she has presented project management topics at PMI chapter events and at the University of Maryland’s and University of Texas at Dallas’ PM Symposiums. She has a Master’s Certificate in Project Management from George Washington University, a Master’s Degree in Management with Project Management emphasis from University of Maryland’s University College and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, with a minor in Economics, from Mary Baldwin College. Susan can be contacted at [email protected]


Sherri Norris

Washington, DC, USA



Sherri Norris is a project management and statistical professional with over twenty years of public policy, project management and operations experience. Ms. Norris has coordinated and implemented schedule, requirements, performance management, and governance processes for survey and Census Programs. She has a Public Policy Master’s Degree in Justice: Law and Society from American University, a Master’s Certificate in Program Management from George Washington University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice from University of Delaware. Sherri can be reached at [email protected]


[1] This paper is released to inform interested parties of ongoing operations and to encourage discussion of work in progress. Any views expressed on operational issues are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the U.S. Census Bureau.