Moving Beyond MS Project: Smartsheet Brings Project Plans to the Cloud

By: Misha Milshtein

As I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve been looking for a suitable PMO solution for our organization. But even before I began my evaluation frenzy, a wonderful, hidden jewel came to my attention. Before long, I was almost (but not completely) in love with Smartsheet.

Before I justify my positive reaction to this software package, let me explain what I was looking for: Quite simply, we are an organization that works and lives by rigid timelines, and we’re predictably dominated by Microsoft Project. Managing more than 50 projects at any given time, consisting of different deliverables, waves, or phases, is not a small task for any organization, especially when it comes to information sharing and maintenance. The constant need to update volatile timelines and share information with our clients and the internal team, while keeping up with demands and meeting every deadline, makes a huge impact on day-to-day operations. The ability to have important timeline information at your fingertips is a necessity.

At the same time, MS Project plans are not easily shared, especially in the absence of the heavy and overpriced MS Project Server, which is not something that makes business or economic sense for our organization. So, a proper cloud-based solution is in order; preferably one that is not limited to the hosting of project plans, can also carry other types of functional load, and be integrated with other service and productivity tools. With this in mind, Smartsheet certainly looks like a formidable alternative. Moreover, for Google Apps users, it comes in a helpful flavor of Smartsheet for Google Apps. This is important because, right off the bat, this tool is integrated with GMail, Calendar, Contacts, universal navigation, and — most importantly — single sign-on, eliminating the need to keep up with login information for different tools.

These are all conveniences, but here is what Smartsheet really brings to the table that got me excited:
  • All project plans are online.
  • Project plans created by a given user, or shared with a given user, are accessible from a single, tabbed interface.
  • Project plans are searchable.
  • Project plans can be interlinked, allowing dates from one plan to drive the dates of others.
  • Summary project plans can be generated (that is, I can combine all my project summaries in a single project plan).
  • Project reports can be generated on multiple projects (for example, Show me all payment milestones that are due in the next two weeks).
  • Automatic notifications can be sent when dates are modified.
  • Due dates can trigger alerts.
  • Support for Google docs and offline docs attachments.
Out of this wonderful list of benefits, I would like to specifically concentrate on the first one: all project plans are online. Many tools allow you to do this, but the reason Smartsheet stood out for me is because of the well-executed implementation of the MS Project schema. This means that 1) the learning curve for those used to MS Project interface should be minimal, and 2) it performs well.

The ability to interlink the timelines, search project plans, and generate many different types of reports on the fly is priceless. For example, in my experiments I imported several project plans that belong to the same overall program (curriculum), and a few others that belong to the same client. I then created a single summary sheet, referencing the key rows from all project plans, creating a high-level view of all that I needed to keep my eye on. Basically, this is no different than inter-referencing cells of a MS Excel® spreadsheet, which leads me to another interesting point: Smartsheet is really a combination of Project and a spreadsheet, allowing not only date-tracking and manipulations, but also a limited use of formulas for calculations.

Speaking of referencing… Naturally, this means that when you update your project plan, you automatically update all sheets that are referencing the source. With Smartsheet, the source spreadsheet can easily be opened from any referencing cell, which provides true ease of navigation, and the ability to quickly open and dig into different timelines from a single summary sheet.

The reports are great, too, though they do take a while to run. That’s understandable; this is an online search on multiple documents. On the plus side, a user can have an unlimited number of reports and a fair degree of flexibility in data-flow design.

All this and many other features are available for a very reasonable SaaS-based price model (at the time of this writing, $49.95/mo. for the first 3 users, $9.95/mo. for each additional user), making this software package a good candidate for consideration if your project plan needs match the description. So why did we decide to pass on Smartsheet after such a great review?

Well, for a few reasons, but perhaps the most important is that this tool comes with a major gap for us: it does not solve our resourcing needs, and that became a deal breaker. First, Smartsheet allows only one resource per task, thus severely limiting the ability to accurately assign resources to project cycles. Second, there is no solution for resource workload charts, meaning that yet another tool would be required for us to accurately forecast the resource needs.

In sum, this package is not a complete PMO solution, and should not be perceived as such, but it may do wonders for a small- or medium-sized team looking to solve a specific problem by centralizing and inter-referencing project plans, and move away from a client-based MS Project paradigm. It integrates with Google Apps, and has a 5-star rating on the Google Apps Marketplace (349 reviewers as of October 2013). And, most importantly, Smartsheet is well-designed, and offers good online performance.

4 responses to Moving Beyond MS Project: Smartsheet Brings Project Plans to the Cloud

  1. Hi Mischa – Since you last reviewed Smartsheet, we’ve added Resource Management. I think it sounds like it’d be a great fit for you / Sweetrush as you manage team allocations. Send me a note and I’ll send you details! Would love your thoughts on it.
    Best to you,

  2. Misha,

    I had the same as you – allocating resources, and being able to quickly see where a resource was under or overbooked. Odd how my peeps do not like it when I book them for 60+ hour work weeks!! LOL. Anyway, I recently started using Team Gantt, which allows me to see cumulatively the hours I have allocated to my resources, across all projects. It also allows me to assign more than one resource to a task, and to tailor the proportion of that task per resource (e.g. for a 12 hour task w/2 resources I may allocate 8 hours to resource A spread across 2 days and 4 hours to resource B on one day). Also, it integrates nicely with Basecamp, and I am exploring ways to set up templates so I can take best advantage of the integration.

    Anne Cornwell

    • Anne, thank you for your comment.

      We went with Celoxis, which also has quite a detailed resourcing approach, in addition to other nice features. Our team is growing rapidly and the issue of accurate resource allocation is as pressing as ever, so this integration comes very timely.

Leave a Reply

Text formatting is available via select HTML. <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



Other posts by this author

password managers lastpass sweetrush
It surprises me when my friends and colleagues argue against the benefit of a rudimentary and must-have utility: the password manager. The fact that there is a debate on this at all surprises me almost as much as their reasons, which often come down to the following list of logical weapons: I use the same...
Read More >
Multitasking Productivity Efficiency
By now we all are used to the fact that the things we like, enjoy, and come to rely on will sooner or later prove to be damaging, unhealthy, and just bad for us in some way, shape, or form: coffee is bad, milk is questionable, computers are deadly, TV is brainwashing our children, and...
Read More >
Articulate M-Learning E-Learning Authoring Tools SweetRush
If you are looking to push creative and functional envelopes in your e-learning and m-learning courses, you need rapid development and custom development authoring tools that don’t disappoint. Here are three reasons we applaud Articulate—a company that’s doing things right for the e-learning and m-learning industry. Quality over Hype: Giving Thanks to Articulate for E-learning...
Read More >
authoring tool LearnDash WordPress LMS
This research is brought to you by SweetRush’s senior software engineer, Andrew Kubay, who was given the task to investigate this newcomer to the LMS scene as a potential inexpensive alternative. Given our experience with WordPress as a content management system, we were intrigued! What Is LearnDash? Simply put, LearnDash is a WordPress plug-in that...
Read More >
Convertible tablet laptop
So, the technological tides are turning again, and something that is not so new is making its return, but now the timing is different. Do you own a convertible yet? Do you know what a convertible is? If not, what are you, from 2011? Convertibles are simply your Windows PCs that can function as both...
Read More >
Being an e-learning professional is not exactly like being a firefighter or an astronaut, but we also share the basic human need of appearing as heroes to our children. Or at least showing them that our work is not just “staring at a computer screen and drinking coffee all day,” as my 10-year-old daughter gently...
Read More >
SweetRush Test Drive Captivate 7
This research is brought to you by SweetRush’s senior software engineer, Andrew Kubay. For those of us in the e-learning and m-learning space, and especially for those who regularly rely on Adobe products, it is impossible to ignore Adobe Captivate. For the past several years, this tool has been one of the most popular software...
Read More >
Smartsheet Project Management Software in the Cloud
As I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve been looking for a suitable PMO solution for our organization. But even before I began my evaluation frenzy, a wonderful, hidden jewel came to my attention. Before long, I was almost (but not completely) in love with Smartsheet. Before I justify my positive reaction to this software...
Read More >
Adobe Flash Player Fix Correction
On May 1, 2013 Adobe released a small statement on their community forum, acknowledging a problem with the current version of the Flash Player, and suggesting the workaround. You can read the entire statement and the follow-up discussion thread, but it all boils down to the following: If you happened to install the 11.7.700.169 or...
Read More >
mobile filibustering or how to present when you have little to say
When it comes to Flash vs. HTML5 in e-learning industry, how can you tell that we live in times of uncertainty? The obvious answer is “because we just do.” Because we live and breathe this industry, we know that with new technology and new advances, things are constantly changing! But it’s also fun to pick...
Read More >
One of the most popular questions coming from our clients in relation to Storyline-authored content is about offline viewing options. The reasons for such requirements vary. For example, one of our clients is deploying a healthcare-related series of courses in Africa, where at least a portion of the target audience may not have access to...
Read More >
Do Google Chrome Extensions Increase Productivity?
With the multitude of business, communication, development, and design tools that I and my colleagues use on daily basis in our ever-changing industry, one piece of software definitely stands out as the one we use most. I am, of course, talking about web browsers — the true workhorses of the cloud-dominated digital world. The web...
Read More >
Software Evaluation 5 Steps to Pick a Winner
This article is inspired by a task that fell to me recently: To recommend an adequate-to-perfect project management organization (PMO) solution for our company. I will deliver my recommendation soon, but even more interesting to me is analyzing the evaluation process itself and establishing a model for future exercises of the same nature. Step 1....
Read More >
watch out for the weak handshake during your virtual interview
In the famous infographic “What You Wish You’d Known Before Your Job Interview,” the authors skillfully recite the well-known, long-established facts and statistics about what managers are looking for in job candidates, what questions are most likely to be asked, and what pitfalls to avoid. Most of us are no strangers to the topic, having had...
Read More >