There are literally thousands of Project Management tools on the market. THOUSANDS. While so many choices may seem like a dream, it can quickly become a nightmare. Each product comes with its own methodology, UI, structure, and functionality which makes finding, learning and using the ideal one for your project and team difficult.
It’s also why most people, after they search for their ideal purpose-built tool, return to old standby: the trusty spreadsheet.
Outside of power users who rely on tools such as Microsoft Project, spreadsheets are the dominant tool of choice (along with email) for coordinating work, gathering information, and updating tasks within teams. They're the instinctive ‘go-to’ tool because they're seemingly free, infinitely flexible to 'set up your way', and don't require IT involvement or approval.
If you send a spreadsheet to a colleague, client, or partner to edit or review, you’re confident he or she will be able to understand and update the work. But Project is too complicated - and expensive - for an extended team or clients to access directly. (If you’ve ever had to print Gantts or email PDFs, you know what I’m talking about.)
Look around your company. If you’re like most, the majority of your coworkers are using spreadsheets to manage all types of work -- projects, tasks, simple to-do lists, and ongoing programs. And, for the most part they work pretty well...
Until they don’t.
They don’t work when it comes to real-time collaboration with teams, adding automated workflows, finding out who’s made changes (and when), or housing related information like documents, graphics or PDFs. Plus, it gets complicated establishing cross-project dependencies, automating workflows, integrating schedules with your calendar - to name a few issues.
If you’ve ever tried to quickly roll up several spreadsheets into one master sheet with data automatically pulled from other sheets, or wanted dates on one sheet to drive a dependency on another, you’ve probably experienced “spreadsheet hell.” Linking cells across sheets is often challenging – and maddening. Links get broken when the source sheet is moved from the designated directory, and trying to figure out the source of a value, or whether other sheets reference data you are about to change, creates uncertainty and errors.
When we founded Smartsheet, we decided to keep what works about the spreadsheet, but fix the problems. It turns out that beyond data and number crunching, there hasn't been much fundamental innovation in spreadsheets in 20 years. Even as the cloud has fundamentally changed the nature of enterprise apps, spreadsheet providers haven't responded. (“Why” they haven’t responded is worthy of a whole other post.)
Think of Smartsheet as a foundational SaaS app for managing work -- blending the most widely used and valued features of Project, SharePoint and Excel, with the collaboration capabilities of the cloud. Because it can be used to manage everything -- projects, marketing campaigns, HR onboarding, sales pipelines, manufacturing processes, and more -- it’s earned a seat at the table when companies evaluate productivity tools to deploy across the organization.
All within a familiar spreadsheet-like interface, you have the ability to attach files, view project dates in calendar or Gantt chart view, share the entire sheet or send individual rows to others via email to get updates, link cells across sheets, automate workflows and establish conditional formatting rules. It’s the tool that, as a former CEO of a global enterprise, I wish my teams had been able to use to manage work.
We’re betting the world doesn’t need another project management tool. It just needs to take what already works, and make it work better. We think we’re on the right track with our fresh alternative for managing work. Let us know what you think.
Brent Frei is the founder and executive chairman of Smartsheet.com. Previously he served as CEO and co-founder of Onyx Software Corporation and has also held roles at Intellectual Ventures, Microsoft and Motorola. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can read more about his thoughts at his blog at http://www.smartsheet.com/blogs/