RedMonk is a small team, and frequently the processes we use to keep the six of us organized are informal and lightweight. Slack and the Google Workspace ecosystem (aka GSuite) are the pillars of our internal workflow. In particular, when I get to choose we inevitably end up in Google Sheets.
I love a good spreadsheet. It is a fair and accurate accusation to say that spreadsheets are the hammer with which I attack every nail. (I named my blog after my favorite Excel keyboard shortcut. I watched the livestreamed e-sport version of the Financial Modeling World Cup last week. I wear a hat that says “Spreadsheets.”)
I love a good spreadsheet, but I was growing frustrated with one of ours in particular. Our project tracking needs have evolved in the last few years, and the spreadsheet we built for project intake and status tracking was feeling inadequate for capturing both the increased volume and complexity of our project work. The system as it was originally designed wasn’t really working for us.
I love a good spreadsheet, which means that I am perpetually enthralled by all the spreadsheets-on-steroids tools out there. I’d experimented with Trello and Asana when we evaluated project management tools previously, but I was intrigued to see whether any of the power spreadsheet tools could solve our current project management woes.
So I set out to see what I could get off the ground with Airtable, Smartsheet, and Spreadsheet.com. All of these tools have the ability to create multiple views (e.g., a tabular view can feed a kanban view) and strong ability to group and filter, and all of them support the concept of attachments (e.g., you could include the SOW document as part of the project record). Here are some of my experiences with the tools:
- Airtable is the hybrid of a spreadsheet and a database. I love Airtable–it’s such a powerful tool. It has a solid set of templates to use as a starting point. One potential sticking point is that Airtable is a database that looks like a spreadsheet, which means that some of the referencing functionality that you might be used to in a spreadsheet–like xlookups that would reference a cell into a formula–may require workarounds.
- Smartsheet definitely felt like the most specialized tool of the bunch, landing closer to project management tool than spreadsheet. The tool was clearly powerful and had impressive depth of functionality in terms of connecting and visualizing data, but it was the heaviest lift in terms of getting things off the ground, even with their templates.
- Spreadsheet.com is in some ways a similar experience to Airtable, but has a closer parity to the spreadsheet experience that Excel or Google Sheets users might be familiar with rather than being architected as a database. It had some nice out of the box features/templates and was slick to use.
But just as the best camera is the camera you have with you, I ultimately realized that none of the features of the new tools was compelling enough to try to port everyone out of the Google Drive ecosystem in which the rest of our shared information exists. Not disrupting everyone’s existing workflows was more important than any of the shiny features and marginal functionality improvements we could gain from these tools.
And so after all the experimentation, I ended up getting my trusty hammer out again and spent a few cycles improving our existing spreadsheet. The experimentation was not for naught, because I definitely got organizational and feature ideas from the various project management templates I tried. I still have a pretty lengthy wishlist of features I’d love to build into our tracking system, but for now we have a Google Sheet that works well enough. Because like they say, the best hammer is the hammer you have with you.
Disclosure: Google Cloud Platform is a RedMonk client but was not in any way involved in our internal tool choices or this writeup.