Case Study - Biotechnology Start-Up


In 2001 we were contacted by a small bioinformatics company started by group of biotechnology scientists and computer programmers. The company was in the process of developing a new bioinformatics platform for the biotechnology sector. The team was expected to develop a working prototype of the platform as soon as possible in order to test it at several locations including Centre for Disease Control, UBC Medical School and Canada Genome Centre. The next logical step was to present their platform and independent reviews to the venture capital companies.


The main challenge facing the team was that the biotechnology experts had very differing ideas on how the system should work and what it should do. Developers on the other hand, did not have any background in cutting-edge biotechnology science and had a very difficult time understanding the requirements. The process that started with great fanfare and enthusiasm has stalled after about one month.


As was mentioned before time was of an issue. The window of opportunity was defined to be 6 to 12 months. Furthermore, due to tight financial situation the company could not afford to invest in additional resources or provide developers with biotechnology training. Quality and the scope of the product were somewhat less of an issue since the company was expected to produce a working prototype with relatively few functions. However the prototype was expected to perform exceptionally well in order to gain acceptance and positive reviews of independent experts.


One of the first issues that became obvious to Thinktank Consulting was the fact that the company had a very weak understanding of the system development life cycle (SDLC) process. And while full-scale implementation of project management and business analysis methodologies would have definitely benefited the company, lack of time and budget warranted a simpler and leaner approach.

ThinkTank Consulting developed a customized course covering key areas of Requirements Gathering, Vision and Scope and Software Requirements Specifications documentation and their relationship to the basic Project Plan.

The next step was to provide the company with all the necessary templates and tutor the team on how to use them properly. Thinktank has also taken on Business Analysis and Project Management duties in this project. Firstly all biotech specialists were asked to take on the role of customers in the project and provide high-level requirements while focusing on a relatively small scope and higher quality. The ability to "translate" biotechnology-specific specifications into technical requirements was one of the major challenges in the process. Therefore the gradual progress from high-level, general requirements to detailed specifications was especially helpful in our endeavour.

A basic Project Plan was also developed with key tasks, resources allocated to these tasks and milestones.


The first prototype of the bioinformatics software was successfully developed in 10 months and installed at several test locations. After several months of fine-tuning the company had several very positive reviews by independent biotechnology experts and made a successful presentation to the venture capital company.


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.