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Post Trial Review of Smartsheet as an IT Project Management solution

I've been assessing Smartsheet as a viable replacement for MS Project at our office over the last 30 days and I thought I'd share my finding with the Smartsheet community in case somebody else is also doing such a review.  I'd also invite Smartsheet to respond to my observations if they feel I've misrepresented anything below (or have alternate work-arounds to these issues).


Smartsheet challenges:

- Single Resource Allocation: Smartsheet does not allow more than one resource to be assigned to each task. The recommended work-around is to insert one sub-task per resource under the task requiring multiple resources.


- Sheet Limit: Our anticipated licence type was “Team”. This license type has a limit of 50 sheets per license. This restriction is somewhat mitigated by the sheet limit being shared among all licences in the group.  For example, if we have a 30 member group for our IT PMO, the group will have a maximum of 1500 sheets to share among all 30 members.


- Effort: Smartsheet does not have a default column for calculating the effort expended on a task. For example, if a task has a 5 day duration and the resource assigned to the task is assigned at 50% allocation, the total effort for that task should be 2.5 man-days of effort.  Smartsheet has no column that calculates this automatically, but one can be constructed using the applications basic formula functionality.  You can also sum the effort of all subtasks using the command “=SUM(CHILDREN())”. This can be used on both embedded subtasks in the body of the plan or on Line 1 for a sum of the entire project.


- Resource Costs: Smartsheets resource management features do not include a rate for each resource nor does the Resource Management templates come with default fields for assigning costs per task. The current solution is to manually add resource costs to the group’s shared Employee sheet, add a group of linked rows to the bottom of your project sheet that is linked to the name and rate of the employee’s included in your project and then use the LOOKUP function in your project sheet to automatically calculate your task costs. The same summation features apply to Resource Costs as to Effort through the use of the “=SUM(CHILDREN())” function. This results in a total cost being automatically calculated for all sub-tasks, rolled-up tasks and total project. Note that Smartsheet is currently working on the ability to use the LOOKUP command between sheets.  This will eliminate the need to insert linked fields from one sheet to the bottom of another in order to use LOOKUP.


- Registered Users only for Resource Management:  ** Community feedback corrected this misunderstanding (thanks Craig). All resources can be tracked regardless of licencing status.


- % Complete is calculated based on duration (not cost): Ten concurrent sub-tasks each taking 1 day will have a rolled-up master task duration of only 1 day (even though it has 10 days of effort). If that rolled-up task is in a project with an additional 9 1-day single tasks, completing all 10 sub-tasks will only result in the project being 10% complete (even though you have completed over 50% of the effort). This will seriously compromise any earned value calculations.


If you have found any other challenges related to Smartsheet as an IT project management application, please add your own comments.  To balance this conversation, please also feel free to describe any successes you've experienced using Smartsheet for project management.


We have not decided yet if these workarounds are worth the effort, but any additional comments would be appreciated.




  • J. Craig Williams
    J. Craig Williams ✭✭✭✭✭✭

    Non-Smartsheet employee weighing in here:


    - Sheet Limit: Our anticipated licence type was “Team”.

    You will want Team  license for the Reporting function.

    Not every user needs to be a licensed user. Only the users that will be creating and modify the sheets, templates, webforms and reports. A few other things to, but that's the most important (in my opinion)

    Read this carefully:


    In most orgs I have dealt with, roughly 10% of them need to or care to be licensed users. My rule of thumb is 2 per team or division.

    1500 sheets is a LOT of sheets for 30 people.


    - Registered Users only for Resource Management: The resource management features of Smartsheet only track registered users.

    See the article sited above.

    Only licensed users can VIEW the resource management system.

    But ANY user (licensed and unlicensed) can be tracked and displayed.

    And an unlicensed user doesn't need to be a real person - a fake email address for a room or equipment or potential staffing hire can be created and tracked.

    I and others have written about that elsewhere in the Community.


    - % Complete is calculated based on duration (not cost)

    As you mentioned, Smartsheet does not perform rate calcs without formulas setup by the end-user. % Complete is not calculated at all - except for the summary tasks.

    PV, EV and other PM metrics can be calculated, it just isn't done natively like you may be used to if coming from a tool like MS Project.

    But it can be done it only a few columns. Those columns are in MS Project too, they are just normally hidden.


    In my experience, you are a seasoned MS Project user, then Smartsheet will have some lack of features that make you rethink the way you do management.

    Many MS Project users I know did not even know you could set the rate for the resources, so Smartsheet is easier for what they need it for.





  • Thanks for the clarification, Craig.  I've updated the original post with your Resource Management feedback.

  • J. Craig Williams
    J. Craig Williams ✭✭✭✭✭✭



    Further clarification on Resources - the resource MUST be a USER in the system. but does not need to be a licensed user. Each (valid*) email can only have one account in Smartsheet. For example, I have my own account and am a user in several other and a collaborator (shared to) in even more.

    Each of the user accounts require a different e-mail address but the other accounts to which I am shared do not.

    Sorry if this is confusing.

    For Smartsheet accounts to which I am shared but am not a user -- I do not show up in their resource list.


    If I shared  project sheet with you and assigned you tasks there - you would not show up in my resource view.

    Does that make sense?

    However, a dummy email address ([email protected]) could be added as a unlicensed user in my system and given tasks and those resources WOULD show up in my resource view. This would allow me to see if you are overbooked but only based on the tasks in my system, not in yours (or any other).


    The licenesed/unlicensed user does not need to be active (the invitation email does not need to be responded to) for this to function.


    Hope this has done no harm.


    *valid in this case I believe is any email address where the user has finished the process of activating the account. 

    I have created users in several systems that use the same dummy email without a problem - I assume because of the activation is not complete.







  • Darrell Hitchings
    edited 11/25/16



    Yes, that makes sense. While I was testing the software, I noted that any resource for which I did not add an email address was omitted from my resource view.  I did not know I could assign an invalid email address to those resources in order to get them appearing on my resource view. That feature would be useful.


    An update regarding our review...we have decided to perform a Proof of Concept (POC) on a few projects in the new year to get a better appreciation of the product's viability.  Smartsheet appears to have passed step one.



  • Regan French
    edited 11/27/16

    Hi Darrell,


    Thanks for the artical. Very interesting. 


    I have been using Smartsheet for Project Mangement within the construction industry for a couple of years now. I have got on very well however, still some questions to be answered. 


    I have never worked with MS Project so I was wondering how you found Smartsheet compared with MS Project for compatability with other necessary software.



  • Hi Darrell,

    Thanks for providing the user perspective from the MS Project side of things. It is interesting to see the priorities you have for your project management solution.


    I think Craig has nailed the detailed feedback, but I think there is a bigger picture perspective that you should consider.


    Smartsheet is not MS Project, and isn't trying to be. Instead of a top-down appoach (where the manager is responible for keeping the data up to date), Smartsheet pushes those responsibilities down to the people working on the project. MS Project is more about determining where the weak points are in your PMO, whereas Smartsheet is more about letting the whole team know where the project is currently.


    I the differentiation as: Smartsheet is a collaborative tool, while MS Project is a management tool.


    For example, you have the "problem" of not being able to assign more than one person to a task. To me - as a Smartsheet user - this sounds like the Tasks have not been properly created, because two people can't be doing one thing. So the Tasks are not granular enough yet. Once you are down to one-person-one-task, determining the effort and cost of the task is easier, as well.


    When you do your POC, it might be interesting to rethink how you are managing projects, and see if empowering the workers to keep their own tasks up to date helps reduce the management overhead, while also providing more accurate - and predictable - data and results.


    It's just a suggestion. I think if you are in search of an MS Project replacement, you will not be happy with Smartsheet. But if you are looking for a better way to manage projects, Smartsheet will be a welcome tool for both you and your team.


    That's my $0.02, at least! :-)


  • J. Craig Williams
    J. Craig Williams ✭✭✭✭✭✭



    That thread addition is worth AT LEAST ten times $0.02


    "....Smartsheet is a collaborative tool, while MS Project is a management tool."



    It isn't a CRM. It isn't an inventory / asset management system. It isn't ...

    But it does solve the problems that cause people to gravitate to those solutions if the problems is PEOPLE (and in my experience, it often is)


    I've gone on at length before (and will again I'm sure) with thoughts echoing yours about the one-task-one-person issue and am resisting the temptation to go off on a tangent here.


    Thanks for the post.




  • Darrell Hitchings
    edited 11/28/16



    Your comment about Smartsheet being a collaborative tool is exactly why it was proposed as an alternative to MS Project. Having each resource update the status of their own tasks and allowing all team members the ability of tracking how the project is going (in detail for them and in total for the project) is very attractive.


    Unfortunately, losing the ability of tracking the costs of the project (no resource rate associated to each resource and thus no automatically derived costs associated to each task) is a steep cost to pay for that functionality. The workaround discussed above is fairly effort-intense and error prone, so my preliminary feeling is that we may end up waiting for Smartsheet to finish developing the inter-sheet lookup functionality before we adopt it as a corporate tool.



  • Hey guys,


    So as we are generally a sub-contractor to the main contractor we have a number of projects happening at one time. The project schedule can vary between 1 month to 6 months. 

    For each project we have a uniform process of milestones and tasks throughout the project life cycle. But because our component, of a new build project, is so small I find Smartsheet capable of managing several projects on one sheet. 

    This is not micro managaing it for me. It does take a certain level of dicipline from the people the milestones and tasks are assigned to keep the sheet up to date.


    However, I can see the limitations to being the main contractor on a high rise building and using Smartsheet. It wouldn't support the necessary level of detail needed to cover all of the project (cost, quality, time, scheduling, risk, resouce management etc...).


    Would you guys agree with that?



  • J. Craig Williams
    J. Craig Williams ✭✭✭✭✭✭

    I would.


    When I first set up a project for one of our clients, I had 9 projects in one sheet.

    As we broke down the projects into smaller chunks (they did not have a WBS to start with), we ended up spltting them out -- but we made sure we thought that was the right thing to do.


    The right tool, the right configuration, for the job at hand.

    Most tools and processes are not one-size-fits-all.

    The more tools and methodologies you have in your bag of tricks, the more likely you'll have access to the one (or one of the ones) that will work best for the current situation.




  • Boomba
    edited 11/28/16


    That makes perfect sense. The projects I work on are not really constrained by budgets, but by time. (SaaS product, so few consumable costs. Projects are measured largely in man-hours.) So that's the perspective my comment comes from. I look forward to hearing how your trial goes.



    There's no reason Smartsheet can't do what you are talking about. You are a sub on the job, so imagine every other sub is using Smartsheet as well. The Main Contractor would then simply have a rollup report of all the subcontractors' work, and would see how each sub's projects were doing (on track, in danger, over, etc).

    The sheets you use for your work would then simply be referenced by the Main Contractor's reports. It doesn't change how you work, or anything. And, if the Main is confused by why your part is running over schedule, he can drill down (if you let him) to see your specific tasks, and where the holdup is.


    Smartsheet is particularly good at that type of reporting now, with Sights.


    - Christian



  • Darrell Hitchings
    edited 11/28/16

    Craig (& Regan),


    I agree with Christian, a nested project plan for the prime contractor would work in this instance by linking the over-all status of each sub-project's sheet into the prime project's sheet? The challenge/drawback is that all sheets would need to reside within the prime contractors account in order to be linked in.



  • Regan,


    Regarding your earlier comment about Smartsheet's compatibility with other necessary software, could you amplify that a bit?  I'm not sure where you're going with that.



This discussion has been closed.