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Smartsheet helps transform a school district

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Screen shot of Smartsheet templates
Smartsheet brings spreadsheets into a cloud-enabled, social world. Currently, members of 12,000 teams and organizations are using Smartsheet. Teams can build their own Smartsheet with the ability to securely attach files, share by the row, and get alerts. Or they can use one of Smartsheet’s 243 templates. These templates include spreadsheets for project management (with Gantt and dependencies), sales pipelines, expense reports, time tracking with rate tables, office move checklists, marathon training schedules, and the ability to collect research via Amazon Mechanical Turk.

Something as simple as a publicly-sharable spreadsheet can greatly improve communication in the workplace, allowing everyone to see how different steps in a project relate to manpower, timing, and other resources. The Oshkosh, Wisconsin School District provides a useful example of Smartsheet’s capabilities.

When David Gundlach, deputy superintendent of the school district, was brought in, the district’s network was often down. It was “an unreliable, dysfunctional setup,” he said.

To transform an organization’s technology infrastructure successfully you need to consider the people involved and their skills, the organizational process, and the technology tools. This is true whether you are in a high-tech start-up, a stable engineering firm, hospital, or school district.

Gundlach used Smartsheet to layout all his project plans — everything from managing education projects, community meetings, website redesigns, school board meetings, and tech implementation and transition projects. He used the Gantt capabilities to show how different tasks are dependent on each other. Showing subtasks provided greater granularity to the plan, and it helped him open discussions with the school board about whether or not a project was doable and what resources would be required. Screenshot of Gantt chart

Because of the complexity of the projects Gundlach had developed, and the number of people he had to keep connected across different community meetings and topics such as budget cuts, he needed to visually communicate the projects’ magnitude to keep everyone moving in the same direction.

“It’s more important to have the community on board than to get the technology. [I knew that if the community was] on board, they would see the value of [a sustainable technology budget] and then deliver on that…. The people are the tough part. The technology is the easy part. [You need to look ] through a systems lens and know that the implications may impact four or five others. And you need to know the interrelationships between those four or five.”

Our general familiarity with spreadsheets is part of their strength and what makes them such great tools for communicating with a diverse audience. “Don’t run away from the things you’ve already mastered,” says Smartsheet’s CEO Mark Mader. “Embrace the things you already know. But you also want to capitalize on the things that are now available to use, such as cross office and cross country sharing. If you can merge those two, you have a very powerful solution.” Screen shot of project sheet

“When I first got here, I said, ‘we’re going build a network that I can plug anything into,’” said Gundlach. Smartsheet had an easy, clean, powerful interface. And since it works with Google Apps, everyone could have the same view of projects.”

SmartsheetGoogle AppsDropbox, and Box are now all part of the district’s infrastructure. The district said no to many non-web-based tools. “Parents and teachers need the same resources at home as they do at school,” said Gundlach.

The new set of cloud tools helped him educate the school board and the community about the amount of work necessary to finish the transformation. Once the board could see the options, the dependencies between the projects, the resources required, and visualize the process (and obstacles), communication changed and things started improving quickly.

“Five years ago I couldn’t have done what I did without a lot of cash,” said Gundlach. But thanks to the power of the cloud, today Oshkosh has one of the finest state-of-the-art school district infrastructures.

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