The Program-Level Value Breakdown Structure


How It Can Revolutionize Program Scheduling



By Stephen Devaux

Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Two nouns have been causing a great deal of confusion in project management circles: they are project and program! The PMBOK Guide defines them as:

  • Project: a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.
  • Program: related projects, subsidiary programs, and program activities that are managed in a coordinated manner to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually.

That definition of project isn’t terrible, apart from the slippery word “endeavor” which should be “investment in work”. But the “word salad” definition of program tells you that the authors really don’t know how to define it. “Coordinated manner” and “benefits not available” are fuzzy terms you throw around when you’re not sure what to say.

The trouble is that the two entities are different, in ways that require that they be managed differently. Yet “coordinated manner” gives no hint of how the differences should drive the different management methods.

Evidence of this is that both individuals and organizations refer to “projects” when they really are performing programs. And we often hear terms like “megaproject”. Which should be “megaprogram”. And because the differing needs are not understood, those “benefits not available” remain unavailable because the techniques to manage them are lost in the fog of conflation. This is especially true of the scheduling process: scheduling a program is much more complex than a project.

This article will explore the key differences between projects and programs that should drive basic elements of each, like value generation, the interaction of different elements, scheduling and resourcing. And it will finish with a simple model program that illustrates the complexities of planning and scheduling programs. It will demonstrate that while each project within a complex program may be manageable, their interactions are fraught with inefficiencies that risk financial loss. This risk may be greatly alleviated through the use of program-specific techniques like a program-level value breakdown structure (PgVBS) and an appropriately-designed AI-based program management system.

The article will explore the following specific topics:

  1. Why the differences between what are called projects and programs are significant for managing and scheduling work of each type.
  2. How a plan for programs and projects that explores how value will be generated, including the value interactions between work items, should guide all decisions.
  3. How value generation should guide a program’s schedule—but within the discipline, scheduling on a program is much less well understood than scheduling for a project.
  4. A critical path schedule is of great value on a project, but a program can have several different critical paths to various value generation points whose schedule date is important.   
  5. The program’s scope, in the form of its projects and their value interactions, should be assembled by the program manager into a single document, developed collaboratively by the key stakeholders, called the program value breakdown structure (PgVBS),
  6. The PgVBS identifies important value interactions among projects, and quantifies the value-added of enabler projects and kindler projects, whose interactions increase both their own value and that of the work they are enabling/kindling. They should be identified and their value-added estimated in order to target resources to individual projects for maximum value.
  7. On a large program, the complexities of the value interactions would likely necessitate use of an AI system to maximize program ROI.


To read entire paper, click here

How to cite this paper: Devaux, S. (2024). The Program-Level Value Breakdown Structure: How It Can Revolutionize Program Scheduling; featured paper, PM World Journal, Vol. XIII, Issue VI, June. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2024/06/pmwj142-Jun2024-Devaux-program-level-value-breadkown-structure-can-revolutionize-program-scheduling.pdf

About the Author

Stephen Devaux

Boston, MA, USA


Stephen Devaux (also known as “Steve the Bajan”) has been a project management theorist, consultant, author and educator for 36 years. His first theoretical article, “When the DIPP Dips”, was published in Project Management Journal in 1992. Since then he has taught project management in graduate, undergraduate and executive ed programs at six universities, and training classes for scores of organizations including Siemens, Ford, Qatar Telecom, BAE Systems, the US Air Force, iRobot, and Rockwell International. He has consulted in planning and recovering projects ranging from Fashion Model Barbie to avionics on the F-35.

The innovative methods and metrics that he has introduced to the project management discipline include the DIPP, critical path drag and drag cost, the value breakdown structure (VBS), and the doubled resource estimated duration (DRED).

Mr. Devaux can be contacted at apm7@ix.netcom.com