Project Management Institute

Law and Order

Miriam Peñafiel Paez, PMP




TITLE: Chief project officer


LOCATION: Barcelona, Spain

At startups, having an all-hands-on-deck mindset from the get-go helps teams get things done. But as startups grow, they must embrace a careful coordination of activities so that project triage evolves into strategic order. For legal tech startup Bigle Legal, it's up to Miriam Peñafiel Paez to develop that essential structure.

The company, which develops documentation automation software, hired Ms. Peñafiel Paez in October 2018 as its first chief project officer (CPO). With 20 employees working on dozens of projects at once, she oversees the execution of both product and client projects to ensure strategic alignment, constantly adapting to day-to-day demands while enforcing a long-term vision of success.

What were your main objectives as the first CPO?

I defined and implemented project management processes and tools. The first thing I did was distinguish the kinds of projects we were doing and implement different project delivery approaches for each. For the initiatives that improve our software-as-a-service (SaaS) product, we implemented agile approaches. For the projects that customize software for our clients, we use waterfall.

How did you decide which approaches were best for different projects?

I based it on our projects’ needs. When we improve our software, we need to adapt quickly to changes in the market and feedback from our clients. Agile helps us have flexibility and adaptability. But with the software customizations we do for our clients, we needed more rigorous control of the scope, deadlines and budgets. We had to be able to tell our clients what a project would cost them and when it would be ready. Waterfall helps us achieve that.

How has tailoring delivery approaches helped?

This year we fully automated a client's tendering process so the client could focus on truly important matters, instead of wasting time on non-value-added activities like copying and pasting documents or trying to get people to sign and return paper documents. When you cut all that waste, you have a leaner, more efficient process. We used a hybrid approach for that project. We used waterfall with a defined scope and deadline, but then we built it in phases and got user feedback frequently to create a solution that met the client's needs.

What was project delivery like before?

There was no one exclusively dedicated to project management, making it difficult to organize the team. Some things were getting lost, deadlines were missed and it was hard to keep the priorities clear. It was difficult to provide clients with the detailed plans they needed. As the company and its clients grew, the CEO realized the organization needed a dedicated CPO.

How did you manage this change and get buy-in for it?

I wanted the organization to integrate project management naturally into its daily activities. So I took an incremental approach. I started with small objectives and then gradually shifted to more advanced practices, one step at a time. For example, when we started using a project management tool, I first asked everyone just to input their tasks into the tool. Then we started adding deadlines. Then we began using the comments section to track the tasks, and then we added our roadmap priorities. It was more about coaching than imposing, and it worked really well.

How do you collaborate with the rest of the executive team to develop strategy?

For an SaaS company like ours, speed is of the essence. So the executive team meets frequently to review our strategy and adjust our decisions formally once a month, but informally a lot more. And we make sure we translate strategy into actionable items, so all our teams know what's expected of them.

How do you ensure that alignment?

We have daily standups that are focused on short-term goals. We have peer-review meetings where teams communicate their progress. We have interdepartmental meetings to coordinate our efforts on projects. And we conduct weekly evaluations of our clients’ new requests to determine their impact on our project portfolio and roadmap.

What's the value of project management to Bigle Legal today?

We make sure all the projects we do serve the company's goals. Any time someone proposes a new project, we can evaluate how it fits our goals. Especially with limited resources, we can make sure everyone is focused on adding value to the company.

But what changed the most is our ability to deliver a better service to our clients. Project management benefits our clients because now they know what to expect and when to expect it, and they know they're in good hands. PM


Small Talk

What one skill should every project manager have?

The ability to help team members make the most of their talents, so they can be the best versions of themselves.

What do you wish you had known at the start of your career?

I wish my student years had been less about stuffing information into my head and more about learning emotional intelligence, communication, decision making. You end up learning these skills on the job, but it would be nice to have them beforehand.

What's your favorite travel memory?

A road trip I took around Turkey. It's a place that's full of history, astonishing landscapes and an amazing food culture.

Who inspires you?

Sheryl Sandberg. She's doing an incredible job changing women's self-perceptions and helping women find their way up in the business world.

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