Systems Thinking and Planning Interdependent Projects

Program Management Commentary

Systems Thinking and Planning Interdependent Projects

By Russ Martinelli, Tim Rahschulte & James Waddell
Program Management Academy

Oregon, USA

In our prior article published in the August 2012 edition of PM World Journal, we explored the relationship between systems thinking, program management, and how to structure a program into a set of interdependent projects. In this article, we begin to explore the set-up of those interdependent projects in a fashion that supports the objectives of the program.

Planning a project that is part of a program can be strikingly different and more complicated than planning an independent project.  The complications come from the fact that the project is part of a larger system that has many interdependencies.  The projects therefore must first be set up within this context before detailed planning can be performed.  At a minimum, the project manager must understand two critical pieces of information:
1.    How the project fits into the whole solution and what it contributes to that solution, and

2.    The interdependent relationships with other projects associated with the program.

There are many steps in the development of the program plan; however, there are three steps that effectively utilize systems and integration thinking that help to successfully perform the high level set-up of a program   These are:
1.    Creating the whole solution

2.    Developing the program level WBS (PWBS)

3.    Completing the program map
In last month’s column we shared with you that the first documented example of program management in the U.S. dates back to 1957 and the development of a complex underwater missile system.  The figure below simplistically illustrates the program and some of the projects that made up that program.


To read entire paper (click here)

About the Authors

Russ Martinelli




Russ Martinelli is co-founder of the Program Management Academy and co-author of Leading Global Project Teams and the comprehensive book on program management titled Program Management for Improved Business Results.  As a senior program manager at Intel Corporation, Russ has many years of experience leading global product development teams in both the aerospace and computing industries.  Russ can be contacted at [email protected]

Tim Rahschulte


Tim Rahschulte is co-author of Leading Global Project Teams and an executive director at the Program Management Academy. Tim is also responsible for international management and leadership studies at George Fox University in Oregon.  He consults with state governments in the USA on matters of organizational change as a business transition architect.  Contact Tim at [email protected]

Jim Waddell


Jim Waddell, former director of program management for Tektronix, is a co-founder of the Program Management Academy.  He is an experienced management consultant in his fields of expertise: program management, mergers and acquisitions. He has held a variety of management positions, has been a speaker at numerous conferences, and is a co-author of Leading Global Project Teams, and Program Management for Improved Business Results.  Jim can be contacted at [email protected]