Systems Thinking and the Program Structure

Program Management Commentary

By Russ Martinelli, Tim Rahschulte & James Waddell

Program Management Academy

Oregon, USA


In two articles recently published in PM World Today we explored the relationship between program management and systems thinking. Taking a systems approach to program management involves four critical steps:

  1. Envisioning the whole solution  to be created and delivered;
  2. Architecting the whole solution into a program;
  3. Structuring the program into an effective team;
  4. Managing the program to deliver the whole solution and achieve the desired business results.

We began with the need to first view the desired outcome of a program and its associated projects as a whole solution that meets the expectations of one’s customers and end users.  We then demonstrated how a systems approach is employed to structure the whole solution concept into a program made up of a set of highly interdependent projects.  In this column we take the systems approach to program management one step further by exploring how to effectively structure a program team to create and deliver the whole solution.

In a previous series article we mentioned 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)


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].