Collaborative Work Management (CWM) applications allow people to work together to achieve common goals and objectives. Gartner Research defines the CWM market as “vendors offering task-driven workspaces to support business users in work planning and execution. They combine task, project, workflow and automation capabilities with conversations, content publishing, reporting, analytics and dashboards.”1 Notably, the use and popularity of these applications have increased dramatically as companies adopt flexible work from home policies. We have seen this phenomenon accelerate even more during the current pandemic.
The leading CWM applications are considered to have a lightweight footprint delivered as platform agnostic, cloud-based solutions. They offer features and functionality that support a wide range of use cases, are relatively easy to use, rely minimally on company resources to operate and maintain, and provide more team collaboration and engagement. This contrasts with targeted solutions geared to relatively narrow business needs that require dedicated resources with specialized skills to implement, administer, maintain and support the user base.
Smartsheet is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) CWM offering. Its core features help teams plan, capture, manage, automate and report on work. Its primary components consist of sheets, reports, dashboards and forms. Sheets can use forms to capture information and teams can manage conversations and add comments. People familiar with Excel will find the sheets layout and functionality very familiar, including the use of formulas. In addition, sheets include workflows to automate actions and tasks. Reports consolidate information while dashboards present information visually.
We have used Smartsheet for our clients and for ourselves to address various use cases, driven by both unique and similar objectives and benefits. In addition, there are important considerations, recommendations and best practices to keep in mind as part of any solution using Smartsheet. A few use cases are presented here.
Use Case: Standardize project management and status reporting across a portfolio.
- Consolidate and standardize status reporting at the project, program and portfolio levels using standard project templates.
- Migrate away from tracking projects in spreadsheets and using slide presentations to report status.
- Eliminate multiple weekly status reports using different applications and formats.
- Consolidate and standardize when and how status reports are delivered.
- Reduce the number, frequency and tools used for status reports.
- Quantify progress and success through consolidated reporting.
- Eliminate duplicate effort.
- Focus on higher value work.
Use Case: Manage, track and report integration testing progress and results.
- Provide daily progress to keep stakeholders informed.
- Create artifacts are that are easily shareable and accessible to many stakeholders.
- Leverage a platform that is interactive and easy to use and navigate.
Use Case: Estimate and Track Project Costs.
- Manage project costs.
- Provide mechanism to route requests to review information and report cost variances based on defined criteria such as financial thresholds.
- Allow multiple people to enter information without the data conflicts that can occur when multiple people work simultaneously in a spreadsheet.
- Maintain data integrity by locking down rows, columns and cells to prevent overwriting formulas and data.
- Audit changes to ensure the accuracy of the information.
- Roll up to consolidate information.
- Drill down to review data at a more granular level.
Considerations, Recommendations and Best Practices
Important considerations, recommendations and best practices with the Smartsheet solutions we have been involved include:
- Prioritize the process over the tool.
- Does Smartsheet fully meet the needs and support variations in the process?
- Is Smartsheet the most suitable tool for the solution or is it being used because it is already available?
- Confirm there is an agreed-upon problem definition and clear use cases to model.
- Use the concept of a minimum viable product (MVP) and iterate to a more robust solution rather than seeking the ideal solution before making it available.
- Ensure the solution using Smartsheet is sufficiently flexible and expandable to support current and future needs.
- Smartsheet includes a large set of templates, add-ons, premium apps, integrations, APIs and connectors that are free in some cases or available for an additional cost. These allow for quick adoption and future growth.
- The dashboards available out of the box may be sufficient for many use cases. However, the ability to integrate with more sophisticated data modeling solutions like Tableau may be an important option to expand the solution with richer features to allow for more robust presentation of information and deeper insights.
- Some people may find the standard calendar has limited functionality and may need to consider the Calendar app that is configurable and allows for consolidated views and color-coded categories.
- Access, stability and costs are other important considerations.
- How many people need to use the solution with Smartsheet, including internal and external users, and are there any implications with access, stability and costs?
- Smartsheet is very stable and not prone to lockouts with many people viewing and updating information simultaneously without impacting its availability and responsiveness.
- Smartsheet licenses are only needed for those who create items, not those shared with internal and external users, reducing licensing costs.
- Differentiating between tool limitations from institutional challenges.
- Does Smartsheet have limitations that may impact the growth and expansion of the solution for which it is being used?
- Smartsheet recommends limiting references to 1,000 sheets to avoid performance degradation. We have worked with a Smartsheet solution that grew to reference almost 1,500 sheets, although without any noticeable impacts to performance.
CWM applications have become ubiquitous at many organizations to address a wide range of business needs. They are especially popular for work management and execution, automation and collaboration among distributed teams, stakeholders, partners and customers. Many of these applications are offered as SaaS solutions, making them easily accessible. Smartsheet is a top-rated CWM application, known for the wide range of use cases it addresses. Our consultants have used it to devise or contribute to solutions for our clients and to support the work we do for them. A common theme we have seen for its use is to standardize and consolidate business processes, although there are many reasons motivating organizations to use these tools. We have seen different yet overlapping objectives and benefits sought by our clients. The considerations, recommendations and best practices described are derived from our experience with Smartsheet.
1 Drakos, Nikos and Gotta, Mike (2020). Market Guide for Collaborative Work Management. Gartner Research: https://www.gartner.com/en/documents/3993039/market-guide-for-collaborative-work-management