Case Study - North American University


A president of one of the North American universities e-mailed me to chat about the issues they were having and see if a potential solution can be found for them. The university was located in one of the smaller towns near US-Canada border and had approximately 15,000 on campus students.

The university management has undertaken a significant expansion of their services including a massive distance education portal, as well as opening of the Law and Medical faculties. The president also mentioned that one of the most important goals of the university was to attract more Canadian, American and international students to their university as the competition was getting very stiff due to their proximity to the border and a number of both American and Canadian schools located nearby.

Problems and Challenges

Among the issues mentioned by the president and later confirmed by all other executives of the university were:

  • We are experiencing stiff competition from Canadian and US universities. We need innovative and effective projects to fight this battle. How do we identify such opportunities?
  • Value of our projects is low. We have no way of measuring, but the proverbial “gut feel” tells us that we are not getting our money’s worth. Is there a way to remedy this situation?
  • We have too many projects in our pipeline since we say “yes” to every initiative. How do we cut unattractive ideas?
  • Our resource pool is fixed, but the number of projects is growing and they are getting more complex. How do we prioritize them and address the resourcing constraint?


As always there were several external and internal constraints limiting our ability to find quick nd efficient solutions to the organization’s problems:

  • The university resources were stretched due to multiple commitments on various projects
  • Due to the nature of their business the university could not afford any risks with respect to its reputation, regulations, financial or operational disruptions
  • There was a very low level of awareness about project portfolio management even at the highest levels of management


  • Initial “As Is” assessment of the project portfolio at university department including integrated project management, project portfolio management and requirements engineering practices, processes and challenges
  • “To Be” analysis especially in the areas of strategic project portfolio management, strategic resource allocation, project management and requirements engineering processes, templates and training:
    • Development of an integrated platform for the project portfolio life-cycle from inception to post-closeout assessment
    • Development of the “project value” algorithm
    • Development of a proper project portfolio balance breakdown
    • Alignment of projects with organizational strategy
    • Assessment of the organizational project throughput capacity
  • Initial implementation of the integrated strategic project portfolio management, strategic resource allocation, project management and requirements engineering processes and templates
  • Company-wide portfolio management, project management and requirements engineering training adjusted for university-specific processes
  • Creation of a high-level continuous improvement framework

Here is a project scoring model that was developed in the course of the “Portfolio Management Masterclass” for the executives:


1 point

5 points

15 points

Strategic Fit


Fits 1 of the criteria


Fits 2-3 of the criteria


Fits  4 of the criteria

Resources Required *


More than 3,000 man-hours and/or more than $150,000 cost


Between 2,000-3,000 man-hours and/or $100,000-$150,000 cost


Between 1,000-2,000 man-hours and/or $50,000-$100,000 cost

Technical Feasibility

Very Difficult

A significant external expertise will be required.

Somewhat Difficult

Will need external expertise


Can be implemented by internal  employees

Financial Value**


0<NPV <$100,000




NPV > $1,000,000



Significant reputation, regulatory, financial or operational disruptions risks


Some reputation, regulatory, financial or operational disruptions risks


Little or no reputation, regulatory, financial or operational disruptions risks


  • The project scoring model proved to be a success, resulting in a drastic decrease of frivolous project proposals and in a significant increase in the number of high-value initiatives
  • The scoring model also allowed to prioritize projects in order to assign limited resources to the most important ventures
  • The levels of conflict at the university has decreased considerably since it became very clear which projects have to receive preferential treatment and which ones can be postponed until the resources are freed
  • The university was able to successfully launch several high-value projects including:
    • The Law faculty
    • The Medical faculty
    • Joint venture with the Ministry of Education of Saudi Arabia
    • ERP upgrade


About the Author

Jamal Moustafaev, MBA, PMP – president and founder of Thinktank Consulting is an internationally acclaimed expert and speaker in the areas of project/portfolio management, scope definition, process improvement and corporate training. Jamal Moustafaev has done work for private-sector companies and government organizations in Canada, US, Asia, Europe and Middle East.  Read Jamal’s Blog @

Jamal is an author of two very popular books: Delivering Exceptional Project Results: A Practical Guide to Project Selection, Scoping, Estimation and Management and Project Scope Management: A Practical Guide to Requirements for Engineering, Product, Construction, IT and Enterprise Projects.