Using Smartsheet with Salesforce for Project Management

Japanese scholar is in awe of Smartsheet

Smartsheet is reviewed against 250+ project management software requirements on a downloadable spreadsheet. The review is conducted with the intent of using Smartsheet as the scheduling tool integrated with a Salesforce project management solution. The problem is, I couldn’t come up with a valid use case for such an integration. There are better options available.

Download Smartsheet Evaluation Spreadsheet

Click here to add the Smartsheet Excel spreadsheet to your basket and continue reading. Visit the basket page to complete the download.

Smartsheet Summary Findings

I cannot come up with a business case where a current Salesforce customer should consider integrating with Smartsheet for a Salesforce project management solution. I was interested in writing a review of a Smartsheet/Salesforce integration because a previous client had been using such an integration before I helped build a replacement. I thought there might be a business case for a small firm, but there isn’t.

Business Case 1: PSA Tool

There are two basic options to integrate Smartsheet with Salesforce for project management. The first would be to automate the creation of a Smartsheet project when a Salesforce opportunity reaches a certain stage. In other words, you want to create the project from the Salesforce opportunity. This business case would arise in a professional services firm (i.e. architect, accounting, software development, etc.). The project would be managed in Smartsheet once the opportunity was sold.

This business case is the same as a professional services automation (PSA) tool. There are several native PSA tools built on Salesforce which have much better and broader functionality than Smartsheet. See my review of the best Salesforce PSA tools. There are also several non-native Salesforce PSA tools that integrate with Salesforce and have much better functionality than Smartsheet. Therefore, the business case for this type of integration doesn’t appear to be valid.

Business Case 2: Project Scheduling Tool

The second integration option, is to purchase or build a native project management functionality on Salesforce supplemented with the Smartsheet project scheduling tools. Again, there are several native scheduling tools built on Salesforce which have better scheduling functionality than Smartsheet. See my review of the best Salesforce scheduling tools. There are also several external scheduling tools which have much better scheduling functionality than Smartsheet, such as, Microsoft Project. Therefore, the business case for this type of integration doesn’t appear to be valid.

Total Score42%
Communications Management18%
Cost Management32%
Integration Management36%
Procurement Management0%
Quality Management42%
Resource Management57%
Risk Management50%
Schedule Management60%
Scope Management0%
Stakeholder Management25%

Smartsheet Pricing

Smartsheet offers standard pricing for their basic model at $25 per user/month with a minimum purchase of three users. However, apparently a full featured solution would be much more expensive. To achieve the functionality that was evaluated you would have to purchase the following on top of the standard license. Pricing for these modules is custom, but I’ve included unofficial price citations I found on the Web. You’ll need to contact Smartsheet Sales to confirm this pricing:

One big advantage of Smartsheet is that a license is not required to view a Smartsheet. Therefore, you only need to buy a licenses for your project managers and admins. You don’t need a license for everyone assigned a task like some other tools.

App Scoring Methodology

I’ve been evaluating all of the Salesforce project management software and sharing the results to help others save time in making an informed decision. I started the evaluation as marketing research for the Salesforce project management app I built: Project Lifecycle Pro. I’m doing my best to give a unbiased review, but I’ve attached the detailed Excel spreadsheet which you can use to perform your own analysis. Here are detailed instructions on how to use the spreadsheet to weight requirements and compare multiple software packages side-by-side.

I structured the analysis around the Project Management Institute’s (PMI)© project management process. This is outlined in the PM Book of Knowledge (PMBOK)©. First, I listed the project management processes and then the activities within each process. Finally, I developed a list of requirements related to each of the activities. The list of requirements is based upon my thirty years of project management experience and experience evaluating project management tools for clients. When I come across novel functionality in the software I’m evaluating I add it to the requirements list. Of course, I’m sure I missed some requirements and welcome any suggestions.

I gave all processes and requirements equal weights, but you can adjust the scoring weights in the Excel spreadsheet to suit your needs. It was difficult to evaluate Smartsheet because it is so flexible almost anything could be built. Each requirement was rated as either:

  • Yes – As Is – Meaning, the requirement is met with out-of-the-box functionality. This rating is awarded four points.
  • Yes – With Configuration – Meaning the requirement can be met with minimal configuration or no-code updates. Since, Salesforce is highly configurable I used this rating for simple things like changing picklist values, adding a field to an existing data object, creating a report, etc. This rating is awarded two points.
  • No – Not Available or Requires Customization – Meaning the requirement cannot be met without significant investment of time or money. In the case of Smartsheet, almost anything can be built using their low-code platform, it is so flexible. I assigned this rating if a custom workflow would be required or a series of custom linked sheets. This rating is awarded zero points.

Finally, the scoring spreadsheet totaled the ratings by process to show how the apps compare by process. Therefore, you can assess the apps based on which processes are the most important to you.

Here is the spreadsheet used to score the app:

Download Smartsheet Evaluation Spreadsheet

Click here to download the Smartsheet Excel spreadsheet.

Communications Management

Smartsheet doesn’t have the functionality of a training management system (TMS), and I don’t believe it could be built. You could use a sheet to list training dates and there is a chat feature, but that is the extent of the communication functionality.

Cost Management

Cost Management is one of the weaknesses cited in Smartsheet’s online reviews. You could build some basic cost management functionality. You could even build some invoicing capabilities but I believe it would require significant effort. One of my clients added a cost column and payment date column to their project plan sheets so that they could generate a cash flow forecast related to project tasks.

Weakness: No Invoicing

It would be a lot of work for a professional services company to build the capability to invoice customers based on a rate card and hours worked. I believe the process will still be manually intensive, especially if you need the ability to invoice some customers based on hours and others by day. Makes more sense to purchase a PSA tool.

Weakness: Time Not Tracked to Task Level

Smartsheet’s Resource Management module does not record time to specific tasks on the timesheets. Therefore you cannot pre-populate a timesheet with a person’s assigned tasks and have them populate their actual hours. You also can’t measure variance between planned and actual hours to the task level.

Integration Management

Good integration management functionality requires implementing Control Center. This will allow you to capture project level meta data: status, start, end, sponsor, etc. There is also good dashboard building capabilities.

Strength: Project Access Control

It is easy to designate whether a project should be public or confidential. You can also give individuals varying level of access: read only, edit, etc. Finally, if you implement Dynamic View you can give clients or external partners access to the project but block their access to certain columns (such as costs, etc.).

Strength: Highly Flexible

This is Smartsheet’s greatest strength. It is very easy for non-technical people to customize the sheets by simply adding columns. This means it will be very easy for you to customize the project meta data to be captured for each project and how you want to report status.

Weakness: No Change Orders

Smartsheet doesn’t come with out-of-the-box change order functionality. You could build a separate change order sheet for each project and build an approval workflow. However, this would be a considerable amount of work.

Procurement Management

No procurement management functionality. However, this is common for project management tools.

Quality Management

Smartsheet doesn’t provide any testing functionality. However, I believe you could easily build a partial testing solution similar to what I’ve built in Excel in the past. You simply list each test with the indented test steps on a sheet. You have columns to capture test results for different runs. You will be able to attach the test evidence (i.e. screenshots) to the test step/task.

Resource Management

The Resource Management (RM) module must be purchased to provide resource management functionality. The RM module has the typical functionality summing assignments by resource on a timeline so you see who is available for a specific role. Resources can be assigned roles/skills and locations so the staffing manager can sort the available resources. Resource Management review on Capterra.

Strength: Typical Resource Availability Timeline

The resource availability screen is the same found on PSA tools and has a clean and easy-to-understand design.

Weakness: No Resource Requests or Forecasts

I could not download a trial of RM, but I could not find any example of a resource request. Most PSA tools have a functionality which forecasts resource requirements by role/skill on future projects and a formal process for submitting a resource request. It appears Smartsheet just assumes the resource manager will have knowledge of resource needs and then use RM to fill them.

Weakness: Can’t Soft Book Resources

Many PSA tools have a useful feature where a resource manager can soft book a resource. This means they can temporarily assign them to a project for planning purposes, but if resource needs change before they start the project they can be re-assigned. The soft booked resources are a different color on resource summary view so it is easy for the resource manager to see where they have flexbility.

Risk Management

No out-of-the-box risk management functionality. However, it would be fairly easy to build a risk sheet for each project to list the risks and mitigation steps.

Schedule Management

Smartsheet’s scheduling functionality is fair, but it has some serious gaps. It can be used for simple internal projects or simple software projects. It will not be sufficient for complex projects like construction projects.

Strength: Good Views

You can switch between the Gantt, Kanban and calendar views. The Gantt view can be customized and is very easy to use.

Strength: Task Dependencies

Smartsheet supports all dependency types: finish-start, start-start, etc. It also supports defining lag on dependencies. It even supports multiple predecessors assigned to a single task.

Strength: Unlimited Work Breakdown Structure

Many of the Salesforce native scheduling tools limit the levels of summary and child tasks that can be created. Smartsheet allows you to create an unlimited level of summary and child tasks to fit your work breakdown structure.

Strength: Assign Tasks to External Resources

Tasks can be assigned to anyone with an email address, and they aren’t required to have a Smartsheet license to view and update the task.

Weakness: No Effort-Based Planning

Smartsheet scheduling is very simplistic. It is based on start/end date and predecessors. You cannot:

  • Fix the duration, so the duration is constant if the start/end date or level of effort changes.
  • Fix effort, so the duration adjusts based on the number of resource assigned to the task.
  • Load level a project, which automatically schedules tasks so available resource hours are not exceeded.

Weakness: No Inter-Project Dependencies

You cannot define and track inter-project dependencies automatically. In the past, I’ve created a section of the schedule to list external dependencies but this had to be manually maintained. The supplying project manager had to notify me if the dependent task was slipping.

Weakness: Doesn’t Support Constraints

Smartsheet doesn’t allow defining constraints for tasks, such as: must finish on, or must start on.

Scope Management

There isn’t out-of-the-box scope management functionality. You could build a separate sheet for each project listing the in-scope and out-of-scope items.

Stakeholder Management

There isn’t any stakeholder or change management functionality. You could build a partial change management solution by building a separate sheet to list change impacts and mitigation steps (i.e. training and communication).

In Conclusion

Smartsheet’s strengths are:

  • Ease of use
  • Flexible low code solution
  • Licenses are only required for project managers

However, I cannot come up with any business case where Smartsheet would be the correct solution for a company heavily invested in Salesforce. Such a company should use a native PSA or scheduling tool for their project management. Or even, better non-native tools integrated to Salesforce.

I struggle to come up with a Smartsheet business case for any business. There are better scheduling tools (MS Project, etc.). If you are interested integrated project management and reporting, then I would install a true PMO or PSA tool. If you need a customized solution, I would build on a platform with a true relational database, not on the Smartsheet platform.

Maybe the niche is small companies without any IT staff which needs a quick temporary project management solution. It would definitely fit this bill, but to do anything but the most basic functions will require someone to learn Smartsheet admin functions. Also, the company will quickly outgrow Smartsheet.



Additional References

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