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TechSoup Battles: Jane's Smartsheet review

Project ManagementProductivityCollaborationCloud ToolsCloud Computing

New to TechSoup Battles? Find out what it's all about and check out our previous challenges. This review is part of our fourth challenge, on team project management tools.

Are you the type of person that keeps all of your tasks in a spreadsheet, or uses Excel to manage your projects? Maybe you have looked at other project management tools but found them to be too cumbersome and requiring a steep learning curve. If so, you might want to consider Smartsheet.

If you can use a spreadsheet, you’re already 75% of the way to learning Smartsheet. What makes it different is the last 25% - the extra features that make it a great tool for team project management. On their website, Smartsheet suggests that it can be used for anything from project management to HR to management.

Using Smartsheet

Let’s go through the areas discussed in the summary post:

Assigning and managing tasks

In Smartsheet you can create lists of tasks, milestones, or pretty much anything else you might want to make a list of. Each task is a row. You can organize your tasks by making subtasks, which group together so they can expand and collapse. To help you get started, Smartsheet offers ready to go templates for project or task management so you don’t have to set things up from scratch.

The information you want to track can be customized by selecting from various types of columns such as dropdown menus, dates, contacts (which would allow you to do things like set notifications for the person whose task is due), checkboxes and red/green/yellow balls. Here’s a simple example of what it looks like:

A sample list of tasks in Smartsheet

If your tasks/rows have dates or date ranges, you can also choose to view your sheet in calendar mode. I find this a very helpful way of visualizing dates - for example if we’ve got a Smartsheet that lists the emails we’re planning to send, calendar view helps us check that our emails our nicely spread out so we don’t flood our members’ inboxes. We can even sync this with our Google Calendar so we can easily see when emails will be sent out relative to our other activities.

Calendar view in Smartsheet

For those who are looking for more robust project management, Smartsheet also offers the Gantt chart view. This allows you to create dependencies and timelines for your tasks, and visualize it as a Gantt chart. It’s more limited in functionality than a tool such as Microsoft Project; depending on your project management style this could be a bad thing or a good thing!

Gantt view in Smartsheet

When managing projects in a team environment, instead of chasing the team members to see if they have finished a particular task, Smartsheet allows you to request updates for the project task(s) (or row(s)) that they are working on. You can even set recurring reminders on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, saving the effort of having to get updates from your team members through email. 

Sharing files

Another area that sets Smartsheet apart from the average spreadsheet is the file attachment feature, which lets you attach files to each row of your Smartsheet. This keeps your project files in a central place and well organized, so it’s easy for everyone to find the relevant documents.

Files can be uploaded, you can attach a link (e.g. to a website) or you can connect to your Google Drive or Box.net account. If you’re using one of these last two as your file system, this is a huge plus because it means you can easily make a link to your files rather than having to upload them and create a separate copy (which could lead to confusion/duplicated work).

Note that for those uploading files, there is no version control or check in/check out functionality. I could see this potentially leading to confusion/problems if not managed well. This tends to be less relevant when attaching files from GDrive or Box, as these systems have their own versioning functionality.

Attaching a file in Smartsheet

Having discussions and sharing project info (stuff that used to be only in email)

In addition to attaching documents to rows, you can also post comments and have discussions in each row. This means that instead of emailing back and forth on a topic, all the relevant discussion is kept centrally. Whether you are sharing board documents and getting feedback from board members; getting team feedback on a draft report; getting a status update on a task; or voting on the next great idea, the discussions and sharing functionality makes it easy to get instant feedback from your team.

Having a discussion on a row in Smartsheet

Scheduling meetings

Unlike other project management tools, Smartsheet doesn’t have any specific functionality for scheduling meetings. Of course you could add the meeting in as a line item to track when it is happening and add documents such as the agenda and minutes, but there is no way to create a meeting invite for team members. This would have to be done separately.

Bringing it all together - Smartsheet reports

As the Executive Director of TechSoup Canada, I want to have an idea of what my team is working on, and see what’s going on across projects/functional areas. This is why I like Smartsheet’s ability to create reports that pull in information based on criteria that I set. For example, I could see all the rows that are assigned to Tierney, across all sheets. Or, I could see all the rows that are due in the next week.

Building a report in Smartsheet

I do think there is some room for improvement in reports that can help make it more useful. For example, depending on my criteria and what sheets I’m pulling from, the formatting can be a bit of a mish mash which makes my report not very scannable. Also, I don’t have the ability to create charts to visualize my data, or sync the data with another tool such as Google Spreadsheet that does have this functionality.

In order to best make use of this feature, plan out your sheets so you have standardized column names and categories across sheets. This will make it easier when you go to pull everything together.

Overall

If your organization is already in the cloud (I've found the file system and calendar integration to be most useful), or you are looking for a team project management tool that is reminiscent of Excel or simple Gantt charts, then Smartsheet is worth trying out. The main caveats I have about this tool are its price - even with the nonprofit discount it’s nontrivial - and that it is a little slow and clunky at times.

Despite some small frustrations and wishes for more functionality, Smartsheet is a great tool that has helped us at TechSoup Canada and might be the right tool for you! If you decide to go for it, my suggestion is to spend some time learning what it can do, and then plan your sheets as a team so you can take advantage of the reporting feature.

Have you tried Smartsheet? What did you think?

Commentaires

Smartsheet

We use Smartsheet since 3 years and it's very effective. The online forms and the intégration with google doc save use a lot of time. For a small organisation that have to deal with a lot of changes in it humans resources, it's help a lot to organize the informations, the sequence of actions and to make sure that all de details or written down - that they are not only in the head of the director. It's easy to learn and they have great tools online. It would be nice to a non-profit organization price.

Hi, thanks for sharing such a

Hi, thanks for sharing such a great article. One more cloud based project management I'd like to add here is Proofhub. It is light, simple and packed with features. You must give it a try(http://www.proofhub.com)