Updated: Dec 2, 2021
Today I’d like to provide a review of one of the PSA (professional services automation) tools out there gaining some popularity in the market and one that I’ve become quite familiar with – Smartsheet.
In a nutshell, I like to call Smartsheet “Excel on steroids plus MS Project Lite”. It combines features of Excel (rows, columns, Excel-like formulas) as well as Gantt chart features like task creation, nesting, dependencies and more.
Project Schedule Management
At it’s core, Smartsheet is sold and primarily used as a schedule management tool. It comes somewhat light on some deeper schedule management features that you might find in MS Project, however for novice and intermediate schedule management, most of us don’t use those features anyway. You can build your project plan, create tasks, indent/outdent as needed, create dependencies (FF, FS, SF, SS) with or without lag and you can assign tasks to specific individuals. One feature that Smartsheet has done a great job of is their one-touch baseline setting tool. Once you’ve created your schedule, you basically just click a button to establish your baseline dates (Smartsheet creates these automatically for you) and you can then build formulas (like Excel) to do whatever you want to do to measure actual/planned against your established baseline.
This is a powerhouse feature of Smartsheet, especially for portfolio or PMO managers who want to see their entire portfolio schedule in one spot. You can link cells/tasks between projects and what this means is you as a portfolio manager can build a master schedule, cherry-picking high-level tasks from detailed project plans (ex. one line per major project phase) then for duration and dates, you can link to specific lines in the detailed project plans managed by your project managers to have the values in your master schedule be automatically derived from the detailed schedules. So as your project managers make updates, your master schedule updates automatically. This has been a game changer for me as a portfolio manager.
Entry forms is a great tool that Smartsheet provides as well. With every sheet comes the ability to add rows via forms which allows you to ensure required fields are entered, input masks are followed, and you can trigger email notifications to let you know when an item has been submitted. And this can all be done with just a few mouse clicks – Smartsheet will generate the form automatically based on the columns in your sheet and you just remove/edit the ones you don’t want in the form.
Smartsheet offers the ability to create dashboards based on data contained in your sheets. Drawing on data contained in your sheets, you can create dashboard widgets to present data either detailed or aggregated for your users. Dashboards can be shared publicly for free if you so choose or can be kept internal as well.