Beware of online Project Management Solutions

Introduction

SmartSheet is a Software as a Service (SaaS) product, offering an enterprise-ready cloud app for project management and collaboration.  The spreadsheet-like application is promoted broadly to track and manage diverse types of work including: team projects and task lists, customer information, sales pipelines, event schedules, and business processes.

Users can access their accounts online via www.smartsheet.com or through integrations with leading web services.

One of its main features is the ability to import Microsoft Project plans directly into its environment.

Unexpected results

In the process of establishing a baseline for a project, the client complained that the scheduled dates were different to those agreed. Inspection of the Microsoft Schedule did not show any difference, but a comparison between the source and SmartSheet revealed numerous discrepancies.

Email correspondence with the help desk initially suggested that the use of dependencies was the cause of the problem, which would have rendered the tool totally useless.

On further exploration the diagnostic was  that the summary tasks present in the original schedule were being translated to normal tasks by SmartSheet and the recommendation was not to use them. This workaround resolved that particular problem, although in a restrictive way as the original source had to be modified to accommodate the lack of functionality of SmartSheet.

Unhelpful help desk response

A report back of the work around was received by the help desk without much enthusiasm. They denied any problems with SmartSheet, and advised that there is no database of known problems, so the issue cannot be tracked or the workaround be used by other affected users.

Further testing

The following schedule was created in Microsoft Project:

Screen Shot 2013-08-05 at 8.26.54 PMThe simple schedule has a number of dependencies and a resource constraint. Auto levelling moves Task 2 to avoid overloading Resource 2. The critical path is the sequence task1, task 3, task 4a, and task 5. The project starts on 2 January and finished on 26 January. There are no summary tasks.

Uploading this schedule onto SmartSheet alters the project in a number of ways:

Screen Shot 2013-08-05 at 8.27.58 PM

The project starts on the same day, but the finish date is 1 February, which is 5 days after the original schedule. A closer examination reveals that each milestone is adding one day, although they have zero duration.

The schedule also over-allocates Resource 2 between 9 and 12 January, which is unrealistic.

Conclusion

As a project management tool SmartSheet lacks functionality to resolve over allocations, creating unrealistic schedules.

It lacks basic functionality to import a structures plan using summary tasks to represent the work break down structure. A linear program is useless but on the most rudimentary situations. There are many other functions missing such as definition of constraints, management of effort and resource management.

It also adds elapsed time to milestones creating unproductive gaps. This is totally unacceptable as it changes arbitrarily the schedule of tasks to optimise the available time. It also breaches the definition of the critical path by introducing slack.

Users should be aware of these severe limitations when considering using SmartSheet for project scheduling.

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