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Smartsheet announces Workmaps, a tool to visualize connections

Smartsheet is a leading work management solution, one based on a spreadsheet presentation of tasks and other project-related information. The company has grown to be a worldwide player, with 500,000 companies using the product in 130 countries. Earlier this year the company raised $35 million in a funding round, bringing overall investment to $70 million.

I reviewed the product last year (see Smartsheet is a social tool with an image problem) and observed that one of its most powerful features — links between smartsheets — suffers from a lack of visualization:

Hidden in the visibility and access controls of Smartsheet is an interesting find. The design allows for a very rich sort of cooperative work. For example, I can create one smartsheet with 20 columns of data, some of which I want to share, and some I want to remain confidential. Smartsheet supports linking the values in one or more columns into columns in another smartsheet. So I could share the names and resumés of job candidates, for example, by linking to those columns into a shared spreadsheet, but not linking the column with salary history.

By extension, there can be a sprawling network of information managed in dozens, hundreds or thousands of smartsheets can be networked together, with information shared in a fragmented pattern, radiating outward, and being mixed with other local information. Consider something really distributed, like organizing the Olympics, where thousands of individual companies might be sharing core information managed by the Olympic organizing committee, like dates, locations, and core responsibilities, and then each organization could take that public data, and add their own personal information in secondary smartsheets, and share that in a dozen different ways with subcontractors and internal departments.

In such a system there is no master, centralized control: it’s a fully distributed but interconnected network of information intended to coordinate that activities of many, many people, but it works on a networked, pull basis. And those people can be very loosely connected: perhaps the smartsheet information is all that’s needed. Note that Smartsheet supports a version of its tool that integrates with Mechanical Turk for crowdsourcing small tasks, for example.

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But the presentation of smartsheets — looking like standalone spreadsheets, and with the linkages and access information concealed in record and sheet-level metadata — conceals the latent power of this tool. So, I think Smartsheet needs to also create a presentation of the network of sheets. For example, if I have created a collection of 25 smartsheets with links between them, I would like to be able to visualize those connections, like a mindmap or an entity-relationship diagram. And perhaps even manipulate them in that view.

I’m happy to announce that the company read what I wrote (and gathered input from others, too, I bet), and they built that visualization of the networks of smartsheets. Today, the company announced Workmaps, which render those interconnections as a network may, and also display a map of the users that have access to those smartsheets.

Here’s an example Workmap:

mbf

The varieties of Workmaps include project-level insight, perhaps as fine-grained as the team accessing a single worksheet, but ranging outward to all smartsheets across an enterprise or even across multiple companies.

Here’s an example showing a leaderboard, those individuals most involved with Smartsheet:

mbf leaderboard

 

With Workmaps, Smartsheet is taking a giant step forward, and entering a new market of strategic insight, one accessible to anyone who has access, both participants and management. Their take on presentation of the networks is novel, because Smartsheets design and user experience is unique. However, the representation of the social networks is immediately intuitive, because it is the way the wiring in our heads works. And that is the power of Workmaps: using the work graph — social networks augmented with the smartsheets — as a way to gain insight into the way that work is getting done.

I think that Workmaps are a major advance, and establishes the company as a leader in the growing arena of quantified work at scale, a subject I wrote about this weekend (see The rise of quantified work at scale). I wonder how the various vendors trying to provide strategic understanding based on work management information will compete and cooperate. It’s going to be interesting to watch it all shake out.