New here - looking for some direction

Shawn Wilson
Shawn Wilson ✭✭
edited 09/13/23 in Show & Tell

We just started with smartsheet and I'm watching a lot of videos and reading a lot of articles, but I have several 'high level' questions that aren't really addressed in the tutorials. I don't need to know 'how to create a sheet', but rather, I need to know WHY choose one type of sheet over another for example.

What I'd really like to do is talk with someone (a real user of the system for a while) directly by phone for a few minutes to explore several ideas, but if you're not comfortable with that then here are some things I would appreciate some input on. We do have some training coming up, but I sort of expect it to be more geared towards the mechanics of editing sheets versus the philosophy angle that I'm looking for.

The first thing I would like to move into smartsheet is user onboarding. Is anyone using smartsheet for that and if so, can you describe your process? I grabbed their template to try and start there, but that template is so far away from what I would consider a typical onboarding process that I'm not sure if I'm just not 'getting' it or if it's really terrible.

For example, our onboarding process is dozens of steps across dozens of different systems, managed by several different people, and certain things rely on other things to be done. Their template seems to be a simple sheet, versus say a project, and projects seem to have the prerequisite feature (predecessors) to tie one step to another step. Projects also seem to be better suited to assigning steps to people. So is a project the right place to start for user onboarding? (I get the feeling that a sheet isn't exactly limited to being a simple sheet or a project though, so maybe just adding columns for assignments and predecessors and then using the gantt view makes any sheet a 'project'?)

Also, every employee that we hire needs certain common things done, but then depending upon their role, they will need between 5 and 10 unique things done that not everyone needs. So do we build a single massive project template and simply not fill out the parts that don't apply? That would leave the project never at 100% which doesn't seem great. Do we delete rows from that massive project if that employee doesn't need those items? What is the impact of that on dashboards and reports that might reference those deleted rows? What if that person adds a role later? We want to use these projects as a retire todo list when the employee leaves as well so we can be sure to undo all of the things that we did to onboard them. Creating a separate, mostly duplicated, project for retiring someone seems silly. But so does just unchecking all the steps in a project and rolling it back to 0% complete. (we really like the checkbox approach versus the drop-down mark complete approach, but I don't know if that has any impact on later steps like dashboards or reports.) Creating separate projects for each of the employee roles seems like a possible option, but people very often have multiple roles and creating every combination of roles that could ever exist would be crazy.

While projects seem to be the closest fit, albeit with many many caveats, they also don't seem to be well suited to being a 'living' document like an employee record would be as they change roles, add responsibilities that need new access, and then eventually leave and the need for a retirement checklist comes up. Maybe nobody else is using the onboard checklist to know what to do when an employee retires and they are just building separate duplicate retire checklists that have a bunch of if/then lines? (If they have an account with system X, remove it) type of items versus know that they do have that account.

Any input on this topic would be appreciated. Right now I just feel like we are missing some things at a very basic high level that should inform how we go about building things out in smartsheet.


  • Mel McDonald
    Mel McDonald ✭✭✭✭

    @Shawn Wilson - I see that you haven't gotten any feedback. I am happy to connect with you if you haven't gotten what you're looking for in 6 months.

    Melissa McDonald | PMP, PMI-ACP, CCMP, MSPM, VOSB, WOSB

    Smartsheet Partner & Certified Solution Consultant

    706.580.7250 |

    Schedule a call:

  • Shawn Wilson

    @Melissa McD - I have not gotten any feedback on this topic. I have started learning the PMO (Project Management Office) template however, and I think I can see potential for user onboarding to be run essentially like a project.

    I'm still very much open to suggestion though, if someone has created a successful user onboarding / retire workflow that works well in Smartsheet. I still see some messy pieces when it comes to adding & removing roles from people and tracking that properly.

  • Patti Switts

    Hi Shawn,

    I just stood up Smartsheet last year within our association as our PMO solution. I'm still in the trail and error (aka rework) stage but I'm happy with the project management solution. Although I have submitted many enhancement suggestions.

    I've not tackled onboarding but would be interested on how it's working for you. Forms does allow for conditional logic where additional data elements will only display based on the value of another entry. Forms also has defaulting options. There is automation that can be used to route task lines to contacts. I'm just starting to explore the automation now.

  • Shawn Wilson

    I started building out a PMO-based solution for onboarding, but I remain unsure if this is the right path.

    Forms certainly check part of the box for us and are the starting point for the process. Forms flowing into a sheet and automation to alert staff about new entries in the sheet are all good first steps.

    The details start to get gritty at that point though. We have several dozen different systems and a new employee might need to be set up in a few or all of those systems depending upon their role. At a basic level, we can have one project plan for each employee with a list of rows that represent each system and whether that employee was set up within that system or not.

    There are two gaps with that plan though. First, we would like there to be more detail for most systems that shows the steps for setting someone up. (create account, set permissions, install software, etc...) Adding all of these steps as sub-tasks in the one project plan is possible, but would very quickly make that project plan massive.

    Second, as we add systems in the future, and add existing users to that new system, having to go back and edit each of those project plans with all of that detail would be a daunting task even with only 120 employees.

    For now, I think we'll have one project plan per user with one task for most systems and only sub-tasks for the most important or special systems. We may create a couple one-off project plans for complex systems.

    In the future though, it would be amazing to come up with a workflow that puts all the steps for setting up a user inside Smartsheet, in separate project plans that are somehow linked based on checkboxes or maybe an ID field like how the PMO project IDs link things.