Smartsheet is one of the leading project management platforms, and after reviewing the cloud-based software, I understand why. From onboarding to documentation, the Smartsheet platform offers robust features, workflows and automations for general project management needs.
While some project management platforms serve niche teams and industries, Smartsheet is a PM software for the masses. The interface will feel familiar to spreadsheet users, but Smartsheet adds capabilities that are difficult or impossible to build from scratch in Excel. The combination of the user-friendly tooling and hundreds of pre-built templates offered by this top PM vendor help project managers and team leaders to get their projects organized and moving quickly.
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This review is based on my experience registering, configuring and executing a project in Smartsheet. The sample project I built in the tool is a three-month application development timeline with six sprints and over 20 core tasks.
Below is a look at the sample project (Figure A). The columns listed include task name, start and end dates, assigned contact, status, duration, completion percentage and notes. Meanwhile, rows organize sprint tasks and subtasks into sprints.
To add additional context, I familiarized myself with Smartsheet’s product documentation, demos, industry reviews and recognition and a comparative analysis with alternative software applications. I ran a free trial of the Business plan to test this tool.
What is Smartsheet?
Smartsheet is a cloud-based project management software that helps teams of all sizes and varying degrees of technical skill to organize, visualize and communicate clearly about projects and tasks within a familiar, spreadsheet-style interface.
Founded in 2005, Smartsheet, Inc. released its project management software a year later with slow growth before a redesign in 2010. A decade later and the cloud-based platform has over 80,000 users in 190 countries.
Project managers and administrators alike can use Smartsheet to generate project objectives, workflows and reports to simplify scheduling, assign tasks and track progress. Through the mobile or desktop application, users can readily access the platform to communicate with team members or update a task’s completion status (Figure B).
Smartsheet alternatives and competitors
Through a SaaS subscription or free trial, users can start fast, create or import a project, and explore platform features.
Start with the Smartsheet desktop or mobile app
From Smartsheet’s homepage, new users can watch a demo to get a feel for its capabilities, or they can try the platform by registering with an email address via the Try Smartsheet For Free button. Existing users working from a new browser or device can also log in through the buttons in the top right corner.
Users then need to verify their account with the confirmation link sent to the email address they provided. Once verified, they will be directed to Smartsheet’s main interface. New users can also download the iOS or Android companion applications for Smartsheet through the Apple or Google Play stores.
Smartsheet features and workflows
The Smartsheet platform’s features are designed around deadline-driven tasks and give project managers and business users space to collaborate in the context of each task.
Import and adjust project data
Teams with existing project data can cut manual input and redundant work by importing project data through Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Project, Google Sheets or Trello (Figure C).
This project was imported from a Google Sheets file. I only had to make minimal adjustments to properly align the data before exploring additional features (Figure D).
Create and manage sheets
Account administrators start their premium project management experience with a sheet. At a glance, sheets look much like a standard spreadsheet where users can import or capture data for central collaboration and management.
On the Smartsheet platform, columns represent project-specific data like dates, team members, dropdown lists and system data, while rows can group tasks and contain other media like conversations, links and file attachments (Figure E).
Together, team members and project leads can configure columns and rows within one or multiple sheets to fit the team’s project parameters and planning needs.
Column types and use cases
The Primary Column is always on the far left, and it must be a valid text or number field and contain the central row or task name. Users can double-click on other columns to quickly create and format other conditions (Figure F).
|Column type||Use case|
|Contact List||Add names and email addresses for collaborative tasks.|
|Date||Add dates for tracking tasks and project deadlines.|
|Dropdown||Add a dropdown list with option to select one or multiple values.|
|Checkbox||Add a checkbox for a quick binary choice.|
|Symbols||Add visual symbols like different colored flags, arrows, weather and more.|
|System Data||Add data showing dates and users for modification and creation.|
Row tools, symbols and use cases
To the left of the Primary Column, users will see four small icons that also appear upon hovering over rows. These icons let users attach, comment and submit items to the task row for proofing or review.
|Row tools||Symbol||Use cases|
|Attachments||Paperclip||Drag and drop or upload files.|
|Comments||Chat bubble||Add comments or tag coworkers.|
|Proof||Rectangles||Submit finalized items for proofing by stakeholders.|
|Reminder||Bell||Set a reminder for a specific task on an earlier date.|
|Lock Row||Lock||Lock a row to protect data from modification or deletion.|
Users can drag and drop rows to fall under sprints based on the needs of the task or the bandwidth of the team, which is useful for task reprioritization or the inevitable delays. For detailed projects with multiple parts within tasks, team members can right-click a row to access the indenting or outdenting options and move the task from parent to subtasks or vice versa.
In the Primary Column, users can collapse and expand parent tasks or an entire sprint containing a number of subtasks for more or less details when viewing the project (Figure G).
In the above screenshot, the tasks included in “Sprint 1: Concept” are condensed to show what’s ahead. Meanwhile, the row contains a plus sign (+) in the Primary Column (Task Name) to allow users to expand sprint or parent task details.
For each sprint and parent tasks, as seen in row 22 for “Ongoing support and maintenance,” users can also condense items via the minus sign (–) corresponding to the row. As seen on the far left, multiple rows have comments and attachments and the sprint rows are locked.
As far as project management software is concerned, this interface is easy enough to use and organize tasks. However, this view is not going to be much easier to parse for quick insights than a standard spreadsheet.
Start quickly with pre-built templates
With access to over 350 pre-built templates covering common workflows for professional services, retail, entertainment, construction and IT projects, Smartsheet customers can avoid duplicative work. All of the templates and template sets are available through the platform Solution Center.
- Bill of Materials Management
- IT Request Management
- Go-To-Market Sales Plan
- System Development Lifecycle with Gantt
- Asset Manager with Depreciation
Template Set Example
- Agile Backlog and Sprint Planning
- Social Media Monitoring
- Legal Contract Management
- PPE Burn Rate Calculator
- Supply Chain Operations Management
Visualize tasks, deadlines and progress
Smartsheet includes three alternative layouts to visualize and review project data. This is where Smartsheet eclipses the usefulness of a standard spreadsheet: By transforming project data to Gantt, card and calendar views, project stakeholders have choices in how they view, organize and work through their tasks.
A key attraction to tools like Smartsheet is their ability to consolidate and visualize pertinent information related to project tasks, objectives and progress for a mix of user preferences. Smartsheet has the familiarity of traditional solutions with the power to enhance visualization and onboarding new users without mastering Excel formulas and spreadsheet conditions.
For each of the alternative views, users can double-click on an existing task to read or edit its contents. The in-browser window lets users edit existing task or subtask metadata, view attachments, create a proof or add a comment to the task (Figure H).
Gantt View: Visualize dependencies
Gantt charts are one of the most popular project management tools, offering a view of project tasks, deadlines and progress against a timescale. With at least two date columns representing start and end dates for tasks, and the ability to provide insight into what tasks rely on the completion of another, the Gantt View offers a clear view of project progress (Figure I).
Additional features within Gantt View include:
- Baselines: Track the variance between the expected and actual schedule progress.
- Critical Path: Identify the longest distance and most important tasks in the project.
- Dependencies: Connect and see tasks that are prerequisite to later tasks.
Card View: Prioritize tasks
With Card View, users have a board splitting all rows (tasks) into columns, also called lanes, based on a condition of the project manager’s choosing. The most common condition is task progress, where project leads and stakeholders quickly visualize the status of a task by moving it across columns with labels that indicate progress toward completion like Reviewed, Complete or In Progress. This is a format that is similar to kanban-style task management tools like Trello.
Users can view cards by Primary Column level, stakeholder assigned the task or task status. Card View is preset to see all levels of tasks and shows every row. However, users can also choose to see only the first, second or third level of tasks as configured in the core sheet.
In the top right corner the Card View, the user can configure how they see cards with a Compact View only showing the title, and a Full View showing additional task details (Figure J).
By selecting a card, users can drag and drop tasks horizontally between different lanes as the task moves through different progress points or vertically within its lane to signify its deadline or priority.
In the above screenshot, readers can see tasks in the Not Started column include the extent of items in waiting. Notably, some of the Sprint 6: Retirement tasks like Project Analysis and Team Offboarding are up top when they should be out of view in the current timeline. A user can drag cards up and down its lane as best suits the team (Figure K).
Calendar View: See tasks over time
Users can view their project through a standard calendar that shows project tasks by their start date. Users can switch between one month and one week views to observe short-term and long-term tasks.
The Calendar View also lets users publish the project dates into an existing calendar account like Apple’s Calendar, Outlook and Google Calendar, or import a Google Calendar into the Smartsheet calendar.
While I didn’t use this feature, I can see where seeing critical project dates alongside existing work calendars would be incredibly helpful (Figure L).
Collaborate with teammates and stakeholders
The Smartsheet platform enables collaboration between stakeholders consistently throughout its features with opportunities to assign tasks, notify stakeholders of changes and tag users. Project managers and team members can share sheets with internal and external stakeholders to delegate tasks and help others visualize the project details.
From any of the project views, users can expand a row’s details to see attached comments or conversations. Figure M shows all of the comments for the sheet on the right hand side and the row pertaining to the comment.
Dashboard buttons: File, Automation and Forms
In the top left corner of the dashboard, users can see three core buttons: File for file management, Automation for creating workflows and Forms to generate surveys for stakeholders (Figure N).
File: Standard sheet management
The dropdown for the File button will feel familiar as it offers quick management features for the sheet and data, including:
- Create a new sheet, open an existing platform sheet or import a separate sheet.
- Save the sheet as a new file or template, rename the sheet or refresh.
- Send as an attachment, print or export via Excel, PDF, PNG, XML or Sheets.
- Add or remove the sheet from favorites or delete the sheet entirely.
- Share the sheet with a message and set access permissions.
- View the Activity Log for the sheet to see all modifications.
- View sheet properties including name, location, permissions, link and sheet metadata.
Automation: Building workflows from scratch or template
To simplify frequent or critical workflows, the Automation button lets users create workflows from a pre-built template or scratch. Common workflow templates include sending notification and reminders, approving and updating requests, sheet changes and sheet-to-sheet workflows.
In the top right corner, users can view and manage existing workflows or create a new workflow from scratch by choosing a trigger, conditions for executing an action and alternative actions if the condition isn’t met (Figure O).
An example of an available workflow template includes alerting someone when a row is deleted. In the above example, any time a row is deleted within a sheet the workflow creator can choose who to notify and through what medium (e.g. Slack, Microsoft Teams, email).
Figure P shows a workflow I made from scratch to notify stakeholders of task completion status on Fridays. If tasks are not complete, the workflow notifies the project manager.
Administrators can control automation permissions to restrict who can receive notifications and requests with options of:
- Restricted: Only users shared to the sheet have access.
- Limited: Users in the same account as the sheet owners.
- Unrestricted: Any email referenced and third-party apps (Slack and Teams).
Forms: Build surveys and collect data
With Smartsheet, users can create forms with custom branding to share with colleagues, clients, contractors and other stakeholders. On the left hand side, users can optimize user experience by crafting the form with headers, dividers or a button for uploading files.
Users can set form fields to fit data collection needs by configuring fields on the right hand side including the field’s public label, help text, validation, multi-line boxes and whether the form field is required or hidden (Figure Q).
Through Form Settings, users have additional options for form layout (vertical, side-by-side or plain), security measures like requiring a Smartsheet login or CAPTCHA before access, post-submission behavior and emailing recipients of copy of form data.
All of these features help streamline essential data collection, customer and partner relationships, and communications by turning requests into tasks that the team can then add to their task backlog or prioritize as necessary.
Other features in Smartsheet
The Smartsheet Control Center offers the most visibility and control over sheets, reports and dashboards to give system administrators a centralized view of activity and scale workflows. Administrators can manage the approval process for projects, replicate workflows and manage resource allocation. The Control Center also offers portfolio analytics, change management and automated provisioning.
With a mix of internal and external stakeholders, Dynamic View offers granular sharing permissions that automatically adjust according to the process lifecycle. Administrators can configure access and edit privileges for business process owners for a set time or task.
For enterprise organizations managing enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, Lightweight Directory Access Protocol or data warehousing, Data Shuttle can consolidate critical business data into Smartsheet projects.
How much is Smartsheet?
Smartsheet plans include three editions — Pro, Business and Enterprise — with monthly or annual subscription prices. Interested teams can use the company’s quote engine for evaluating costs of plans from one to 200 users.
Note: All enterprise plans require contacting the company for a quote, while Pro and Business editions require a quote request for plans over 25 users (Pro) and 50 users (Business).
Below is a look at how Pro and Business subscriptions compare.
Smartsheet pricing and plans
|Monthly||$9 / user||$32 / user||Quote|
|Annual||$7 / user||$25 / user||Quote|
The Pro plan is ideal for smaller teams, startups and businesses with up to 25 users and includes most of the core features needed to start planning and executing a project.
For companies seeking more enterprise-aided features, the Business plan has a minimum of three users and builds on Pro with up to 1TB in file storage, unlimited viewers and collaborators and security controls.
Finally, enterprise organizations managing multiple teams and remote offices or team members will be most at home with the Enterprise plan, offering the most in cybersecurity features, no-code development and administrative control.
Every plan comes with a stack of automation features:
- Alerts, reminders and notifications to Slack and Microsoft Teams
- Assign people actions, and update or approve requests
- Record a date, move or copy a row, and clear cell
The lone difference in automation capabilities is Business and Enterprise plans get unlimited automations while Pro clients have 250 per month.
Though Business and Enterprise editions offer the most in features, there are also a handful of additional features requiring an additional purchase for these customers.
All plans can add Brandfolder for digital asset management while Business and Enterprise clients have the most access to add-ons. Note: Standard Support comes with Enterprise plans and is available as an ad-on for Business clients.
Business and Enterprise additional features
- Control Center: Central console for process management at scale
- Dynamic View: Manage and control access across stakeholder groups
- Data Shuttle: Automate data movement between repositories
- DataMesh: Map data between two large data repositories
- Connectors: Synchronize data between critical business applications
- Resource Management: Manage resource allocation and forecast needs
- Pivot App: Summarize and analyze large data sheets for trends
- Calendar App: Build shareable and flexible calendars with stakeholders
Business and Enterprise support and services features
- Standard support: 24/7 web or phone support, and Smartsheet University eLearning
- Technical account managers: Access to specific account manager for support
- Smartsheet University: Access to onboarding, training and eLearning content
- Professional services: Curated solutions, business process optimization, and more
- DataTable: Collaborate and visualize large data sets
- Bridge: Automate business processes across software systems
- Customer Managed Encryption Keys: Monitor and control access with CMEK
- Event Reporting: Evaluate activity with up to 6 months of historical log data
- Governance Controls: Protect relevant data with data retention controls
Smartsheet: Business analysis
Smartsheet use cases and clients
With as universal as project management is, there’s no surprise Smartsheet’s clients are a broad swath of industries and roles.
The project management specialist’s extensive presence includes over 80% of the Fortune 500 and 90% of the Fortune 100 companies. Smartsheet’s clientele includes more than 83,000 brands across 190 countries boasting over 2,000 documented use cases to date.
- Energy and utilities
- Professional services
- Financial services
- Media and entertainment
- Healthcare and life sciences
- Public and non-profit
- Human resources
- IT management
- Software development
The Smartsheet platform offers 78 different integrations to connect data and systems and reduce jumping between applications. Notable connectors include:
- Automation: UiPath and Zapier
- Collaboration: Adobe Creative Cloud, LucidSpark, Slack, Teams, Oculus and Webex
- Data Management: HubSpot, Power BI, Qlik, Tableau and TIBCO
- Google: Calendar, Docs, Drive, Hangouts, Gmail and Google Workspace
- Legal Services: DocuSign and Jalubro
- Microsoft: Azure Active Directory, Cloud App Security, Excel, OneDrive and Outlook
- Security: McAfee, Okta, OneLogin, PingOne and VMware
- Storage: Box, Dropbox and Egnyte
Premium add-on integrations include Salesforce, ServiceNow, and Smartsheet’s own tools: Calendar App, DataMesh, Dynamic View and Pivot.
Smartsheet’s customer support
Smartsheet offers four levels of technical support to help clients troubleshoot problems, mitigate risks, respond to emergencies and address the product life cycle.
All plans starting with Standard Support include options to contact Smartsheet 24×7 by phone or web chat. The Standard plan also comes with Smartsheet University eLearning.
The lone additional feature for Professional Support is access to a Pro Desk specialist, trained to work with clients to answer questions, guide effective usage, and manage governance and administration. Without diving into the company’s documentation, clients can cut to the chase with essential guidance on how a specific team or business can utilize workflows and processes.
Technical Account Manager
The premium support plans start with a Technical Account Manager dedicated to addressing specific client needs. While Professional Support offers one-on-one sessions with Smartsheet personnel, the TAM is a designated individual with a service-level agreement to boot.
The TAM support tier offers established communication channels and scheduled meetings with a named contact available 24×7 for critical situation paging. The TAM plan also includes early access to features and proactive outreach for service impacting events.
Finally, TAM Enhanced bundles everything mentioned with a handful of additional features suited for enterprise-level customers. These features include active monitoring of critical sheets, solution lifecycle management, lightweight solution builds and a Control Center sandbox environment.
Community, learning and Smartsheet University
For clients and interested customers, Smartsheets offers a bundle of resources to enable a seamless onboarding experience and resolve pain points. These resources include the company’s stakeholders community, help and learning center, and eLearning via Smartsheet University.
Engaging with community stakeholders
Administrators and regular users can jump to the Smartsheet Community page for discussions and threads related to using the platform, integrations, APIs and best practices. The company’s Community also includes several industry or topic-specific groups including healthcare, construction, government and IT professionals.
Searching for help or more info
The Smartsheet Help and Learning Center offers extensive documentation covering 147 topics via self-paced learning tracks. For a quick answer, troubleshooting or informational questions are a search away with additional filters for specific products, query type and language (Figure R).
Learn more and get certified
Through Smartsheet University, clients and interested users can watch onboarding videos, take instructor-led classes and get certified as a product expert. Smartsheet University offers two accreditation routes for certified associates: Core Product and System Administrator.
The Core Product certification covers general platform workflow management skills including sheets, collaboration, automation, formulas, forms, reports and dashboards. The System Administrator certification covers solution administration domains including managing license, users, groups, account settings, security policies and audit reports.
Certification exams cost $149 per attempt with virtual proctoring. Certified associates can renew their certification annually or earn Professional Development Units in lieu (Figure S).
Smartsheet’s professional services
For organizations looking to minimize onboarding or outsource core Smartsheet processes, the company’s professional services lineup includes:
- Business process optimization to adjust and maximize workflows.
- Innovation workshops for learning, collaboration and business problem analysis.
- Integration and automation for connecting critical applications and processes.
- Packaged and tailored solutions to address business-specific challenges.
Smartsheet’s consulting delivery framework focuses on differentiating business strategy, maximizing impact, accelerating time to value, and continuous improvement.
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Smartsheet’s partner program
The company’s partner program is Smartsheet Aligned, providing channel partners access to leads, deals, discounts and market development funds while offering clients Smartsheet platform capabilities. Businesses can login to the Smartsheet Partner Portal to train staff, access marketing materials, manage sales or work with a dedicated channel account manager.
Smartsheet currently has over 270 partners split between reseller, distribution and tiered partners. As the partnership grows, businesses can attain silver, gold and platinum partner tiers for additional incentives.
Companies interested in Smartsheet’s value-added services can complete the following partner application.
Pros and cons of Smartsheet
Smartsheet advantages and benefits
- User friendly relative to spreadsheet products like Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets
- Pre-built project templates and automation templates for reducing prework
- Extensive access to feature and platform documentation for troubleshooting
- Clean GUI with helpful descriptions to onboard and train new users
- Robust business resources for integrations, consulting and managed services
- Several capabilities come at an extra cost as an add-on feature
- Pro lacks most all security features that are available on the Enterprise plans
- Premium support is only available as an add-on for Business and Enterprise clients
- Industry leader with reputable track record and extensive client and partner base
- Familiar interface with accessible tools for those familiar with spreadsheets
- Companies requiring more robust security features will need Enterprise-level service
While other project management solutions speak directly to IT and software development teams, Smartsheet is a general project management solution offering teams of all departments and across industries a convenient platform to consolidate, edit and manage projects.