Pretty much ever since I’ve been using computers, spreadsheets have been one of the programs I have used the most. I started out back when I was 7 years old and learning how to do formulas in Excel ’95, and have continued using it all the way to my university work now, where I’m pretty much doing the same thing (though on a much more complicated level)! But that’s not suprising: spreadsheets were considered the original killer app for PCs back in the early days of personal computing.
The concept of spreadsheets has been around for a long time. Spreadsheets are a powerful way to display and manipulating data, and now even being applied to project management. Smartsheet is a way to collaborate on and manage your projects without that traditional Gantt chart layout. Instead, it turns your project into a spreadsheet. It’s definitely unique – as far as I know, no other project management app takes this kind of approach – so let’s take a look and see what Smartsheet has to offer.
Smartsheet may look like a spreadsheet, but it’s fully cloud based so you can keep your projects managed from any browser, anywhere. It integrates with web apps you likely already use, such as Google Apps, Box, Amazon Web Services, and VMWare Zimbra. It’s not an unknown service either. They’ve got some pretty top name clients on their reference list, including ESPN, Sony Music and Columbia University.
As with most web apps, there’s the option of signing up for a 30-day trial via their website, and pricing starts at $15.95 a month for a single user. That’s a little pricey compared to other project management apps on the web, but we shall see later on whether the price is really worth it.
When you sign into Smartsheet, you’ll see any sheets that you are already working on in the main page, ready for you to jump into and continue your work. To create a new document (or import an existing one from Excel, Google Spreadsheets, or Microsoft Project), simply click on Add New link to choose to create or import a document. Smartsheet will then ask you to name the project, and choose who you want to share it with (you can keep a document just for yourself or share it freely with other users).
Managing Your Project
As I’ve mentioned above, Smartsheet works off the spreadsheet principle, so if you’ve used Excel, Numbers, Google Docs Spreadsheets, or any other kind of spreadsheet program, then you’ll have absolutely no problems coming to grips with it.
Along the lefthand side of the screen you’ve got your toolbox where you can format and edit text, modify columns (you can also do this by right-clicking on them), and insert formulas (which are supported by Smartsheet). You can create as many columns as you want (the ones above are just examples), and you can modify the column type depending on the content (e.g. text, a checkbox, date entry and so on). This way, Smartsheet can really work in any way you want.
The idea behind Smartsheet is collaboration, and the good thing here is that this doesn’t necessarily have to be within your own company, either. You can share either individual lines (along with any attached files), or the entire sheet with anyone via e-mail. If you created the sheet, you can also set access permissions, controlling who can view the sheet. Sheets can also be published to the web either in read-only or editable mode.
One of the things I love about Smartsheet is how it actively promotes discussions for each individual task in the project. Hovering over the little note icon and clicking on it brings up the Discussions window where each member of the team can post a comment and attach a file if necessary.
Files can be attached to individual rows (i.e. tasks, and not the project as a whole), which allows anybody working on the project to precisely allocate the file to the relevant section of the project. Files can also be linked with the relevant line item. All discussions and notes are tracked, recorded and documented in the system so that viewers can see the entire change log for an individual task. Smartsheet also has e-mail notifications, ensuring that nobody misses out on anything important.
If you prefer the traditional approach to project management – Gantt charts – then you’re in luck, as Smartsheet supports Gantt charts, unlike many other online project management apps.
You can drag and drop tasks directly on the Gantt chart and change dates and task dependencies as necessary. Smartsheet will also let you add sub-tasks and expand and collapse multiple levels of items. Sharing your charts with other members is quick and easy – you can export your Gantt chart directly as a PNG file or print it, if you’d like to keep it for your own records or share it directly outside of the web app.
There are numerous other features in Smartsheet, including a calendar view with full iCal or Google Calendar integration, email alerts, cross-sheet reporting for easy auditing, and full integration with Google Apps so you can attach files directly from Google Docs. The developers have also created an HTML5 version for viewing on smartphones, so you won’t be tied down to your computer to manage your project.
Smartsheet’s familiar interface and powerful features make it a very worthwhile web-based project management tool. I really like its unique approach to an already existing concept. It does give you a really clear view of your projects and tasks at hand, and helps you add structure to all your processes in order to really define your work.
I did feel, however, that the interface, although familiar to users of spreadsheet programs such as Excel or Numbers, is slightly overwhelming and a tad too complicated at times. To really appreciate Smartsheet to the full, you really need to spend a couple of hours playing around with it to find out its full potential. That’s not a bad thing, per se, but you do need to know before jumping in that it takes a bit more commitment to get started with Smartscreen than most other project managment web apps.
The app gets a very commendable 8 out of 10 rating, as it is a very fluid and polished app, but is slightly let down by its engulfing interface and pricing. I feel that the $16 monthly fee for a single user is a bit steep, especially given the fact there are other much cheaper options out there on the net. However, the Team option is more sensibly priced. You are, however, paying for a unique concept, so if you are planning to use this for personal use – forget it, but if you’re planning to use it within a business environment, then it is an option definitely worth considering.