The paper is focused on analyzing the public–private partnerships (PPP) in the water sector in Romania. A methodology based on the system lifecycle approach of ISO/IEC 15288:2008 is proposed to study the challenges in designing and implementing this type of policy instrument. The authors use structured approaches for investigating key issues related to PPP projects and they also illustrate the application potential of the concept by comparing two categories of projects, through a case study. One of the studied project categories refers to successful implementations of PPP, whilst the other refers to failures, thus showcasing the power of abstractization of systems engineering in understanding the real issues involved in these undertakings and allowing for improvement opportunities to be discovered.