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At a glance, Smartsheet appears to be both intimidating and designed by the most boring person you know. Like a Sudoku-inspired death trap.
But I’d be wary of any project management software that cares more about being “fun” than being efficient. So, is Smartsheet worth the learning curve? Would you be better off trying to learn something less complicated… like playing the piano?
Honestly, I know nothing of your musical inclinations, so I can’t say for sure. But as far as Smartsheet is concerned, I tested it extensively and the short answer is yes, Smartsheet is worth the time investment.
After spending an unreasonable number of days playing with charts and spreadsheets, I can say that it’s an outstanding software for managing timelines, creating reports, and organizing teams of all sizes. And though it never gets prettier, it does get a lot easier. Eventually.
Smartsheet offers a 30-day free trial and is available in English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Japanese.
But the only thing that really matters is whether Smartsheet is right for you and your project. That’s what we’re here to find out.
Powerful Tools for Big Projects (and Fun Little Games)
Smartsheet has over 40 features listed on its website. And after snooping around a bit, I can say that there are many, many more available. I quickly realized that to properly test this massive project management software, I had to use it to manage a project of my own.
Enter Dungeons & Dragons (bear with me, this is relevant!), a game where a group of full-grown adults sit around a table, play make-believe, and get mad at dice. It’s also a logistical nightmare. There are charts, formulas, and flow diagrams involved in deciding which fantasy creature can cast which spell at every given moment.
Believe it or not, charting a Dungeons & Dragons campaign is actually a great way to test a project management software. And that’s exactly what I did with Smartsheet.
What I found was that Smartsheet is the complete package. It can make calculations, create sheets and reports, send automatic notifications, set custom priorities – you name it. Below are some of the features that stand out.
Visualize Your Project (in Every Way Imaginable)
If you’ve ever used Microsoft Excel or Google sheets, then you’ll recognize the grid interface. A grid is the best way to manage large amounts of information quickly. Timer in hand, it took me under 40 minutes to add over 50 items to an inventory sheet with Smartsheet’s grid view.
I know what you’re thinking: a software called Smartsheet can create spreadsheets; why is this worth mentioning? Because grids are more than just spreadsheets.
Add a couple of date columns and you can see your timeline in a Gantt chart, which is a great way to visualize your project’s goals. Do you need a simpler view of all your tasks? You can see them as cards on a board. You can also use a calendar view, which helps you stay organized.
The members of your team might have different ways to process and learn information. Being able to see the same project in different ways means everyone can perform their best.
If you need to ask for your employees’ contact info or get feedback from your customers, Smartsheet can help.
The built-in forms feature in Smartsheets lets you send out forms, collect data, and automatically input that data into columns of your choosing.
There are advanced settings too. For instance, when you design your forms, you can use conditional logic to get different questions to appear depending on previous answers. Plus, anyone can fill a form, no account necessary.
Unfortunately, there’s almost no visual customization to forms. This will be a recurrent issue with Smartsheet. Everything has the same no-fun-allowed corporate look, and there isn’t a lot you can do about it.
Let Workflows Do the Hard Work for You
Workflows are automatic processes that get triggered depending on the value of a cell. Which sounds a lot like an average spreadsheet function, and they can be. But the difference is that workflows aren’t limited to a single document.
For example, in D&D, spells are either ranged or centered on the player. To make my life easier, I simply set the range of self-centered spells to “0” and used a workflow to write “Self” on all spell sheets with a range of 0.
You can create workflows that send an alert to someone on your team (either on Smartsheet or by Teams or a Slack channel), request approvals on changes, or automatically send forms. The workflow interface lets you do all of this visually, using diagrams instead of having to type complicated functions.
Not only do workflows save everyone time, they reduce human error. Even if there’s a mistake in the workflow itself, you can correct the logic by changing or deleting the faulty steps in the process, without having to go case-by-case.
Organize Your Data However You Want with Reports
Let’s say that you’ve already registered large amounts of information, inventory, contact info, and project dates. In my case, I had grids for spells, player information, and information about their characters. You still need to organize this data. And that’s where reports come in.
Reports allow you to show specific information from several sheets. If I wanted a document that only displayed certain kinds of spells or one that showed a player’s information next to their character’s, all I had to do was create a report, specify my source grids, and select what I wanted to display.
Reports automatically update the information on a grid. If you change something in a report, it’s saved in the source grid and vice versa.
Showcase Your Information Using Dashboards
Dashboards are great for presenting your information in a way that’s clear and attractive. The way you build a dashboard in Smartsheet is by placing widgets with a drag-and-drop editor: easy-peasy. Widgets display information from any other document, and are automatically refreshed if you make changes to the source.
Don’t expect the most impressive presentation, though. For a feature that’s made to display data visually, you don’t get a lot of control over how it looks.
That said, Smartsheet is not a design app, and the default look is very professional. I just wish you could choose a background color other than white and grey.
I see a lot of criticism of Smartsheet for being hard to use. Frankly, I disagree. I’m not a spreadsheet super-genius, and I don’t think other reviewers are dumb. I just think that their statements are incomplete. Let me clarify:
Smartsheet is hard to use, at first. It doesn’t follow most industry standards, so it might be especially confusing if you’re used to other apps.
Did you know that there are paid classes for Excel? Classes that you need to buy on top of the regular Excel license? There are no paid classes for Smartsheet. If you find one, don’t buy it. Smartsheet offers all the learning resources you need – for free.
In Smartsheet’s knowledge base, you’ll find written guides and short, less-than-five-minute videos for every feature. If you prefer in-depth explanations, there are hours-long video conferences that you can watch for free.
It took me less than two hours with this material to feel comfortable using the app (though I am a fan of the playback speed button).
Great Templates, Good to Go
For a lot of people, “template” is almost a bad word. They see templates as a learning tool or something that you edit until it looks nothing like the original.
But this is not the case with Smartsheet. Every template and template set is high quality and immediately applicable. When I wanted contact info for my players, all I had to do was download the Employee Contact Lists template and swap the default values with my info.
Pro Tip: Templates can also be a great way of learning on your own. Install a template set, and play with the basic sheets to learn how they work.
A Column for Everything
I’ve mentioned before that you can add different types of columns to your projects. Apart from the classical text or number values, you can create columns for contact lists, dates, single and multiple-selection dropdowns, checklists, symbols, and automatic values.
This variety can make data entry more efficient and communication clearer.
Communication within a project is exceptional. Members can comment on individual rows and tag other members. You can quickly set up workspaces for easy file-sharing and automatically notify teammates whenever there’s an important change.
You can also add proofs to different rows. Proofs can be files of any kind, and other members can annotate and comment on specific sections. If you upload a video, members can even link comments to different timestamps.
Plus, there’s a free Slack integration. So it’s not like you can’t contact other team members in real time, if you really need to.
Smartsheet offers three options for customer support. You can call them directly, email them, or use their ticket system. Or so they say. In practice, unless you have a plan with pro-support, there’s only one way to contact customer support.
I started by sending an email with three basic questions:
How do I set up a project for a freelancer who’s only temporarily on board?
How can I change access privileges for different team members?
Can I use the data from one column as the values in the dropdown selection for another?
I received this message almost immediately:
Great! I’m a fairly impatient person, so I usually love little details like this. It means that I won’t have to wonder if they received my email or not while I wait for a response. The problem is that I never got the answer to my questions.
“Fine,” I thought. “I’ll just call their number.” A pre-recorded voice told me to contact pro-support if my plan had it or to use the website if it didn’t. And hung up on me.
I was really disappointed with the quality of the support. My experience with Smartsheet had been great so far, so I decided to give it one last try. I used the internal system. Within 30 minutes, I got this message:
An actual human being was inviting me to video chat to solve my concerns. The service was excellent. Robert was friendly and patient with me. He asked me pointed questions about my needs and took the time to solve them step by step. He even offered to schedule another call with me if I needed it.
In the end, I’m torn. The help I did receive was one of the most pleasant customer support experiences I’ve ever had. I just wish I didn’t have to go through all that trouble first.
Fair Prices for a Great Service
Smartsheet isn’t outrageously priced, but it isn’t cheap either. If you choose to go with Smartsheet for your project, the expense is definitively something to consider. Here’s the thing though: for what it offers, the prices are great.
It would take two or three other apps to do what Smartsheet does in one. The interface isn’t the most attractive thing in the world, and you need to invest both time and money into learning it. But look past these things, and Smartsheet could be the best companion for your epic adventure (or small-to-large-scale project, if you want to be boring about it).
What is Smartsheet best used for?Smartsheet is best for managing all the information of a project in a single place. There are plenty of integrations, but if you want a central HUB for managing work that’s done in other apps, I’d recommend going for a simpler and cheaper option.
If you’re unsure about which one to use, why not take a look at our review of the best project management software in 2022?Is Smartsheet better than Excel?Yes. My dislike for Excel aside, Smartsheet has sheets with more functionalities, and a whole project management suite that Excel just doesn’t have.Is Smartsheet secure?Smartsheet offers AES 256 encryption for all customers, which is the same encryption standard used by the United States Military. Smartsheet is also HIPPA compliant (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), GDPR compliant (General Data Protection Regulation), and a-slew-of-other-acronyms-compliant.Does Smartsheet have a free version?Smartsheet doesn’t offer a free version. That said, you can get a fully-featured 30-day free trial to test its features.
Andrés Gánem is a Colorado-born, Mexico-City-raised freelance writer and content creator. He’s been doing that for a while. When he’s not writing, he should be, but you can find him reading adventure novels, playing video games, or drinking frankly unhealthy amounts of coffee. If you see him, tell him to put down that coffee. He’s shaky enough as it is.