Smartsheet for Rollout Development, Part 1

This series covers how architecture professionals managing the rollout of multiple locations at a time for chain concepts can manage that process through Smartsheet, the web-based tool based on internet-connected spreadsheets.


Smartsheet is an amazingly powerful tool. It’s also intimidating because when you start using this spreadsheet-based SaaS, you begin with a literal blank page, which I love and find empowering, but I totally get that it might be a real turn off for some (they do provide templates and can build custom sheets for you too).

Before I learned about and started using Smartsheet, I worked in many other SaaS tools for management of chain rollout development. Every single one of those other solutions had the same shitty things that held them back:

  • They force you to fall in line with their own vision of management workflows. You redesign your processes to fit their workflows in order to make it work, and get mixed results.
  • They require someone behind the green curtain managing it all full time to make sure people input data so the machine has something to show in return, which never works well because it’s way too much data to wrangle that way.
  • The companies behind these other solutions never had enough capital to continually improve their UI and update it to comply with the latest web technologies, so they all end up looking and functioning like AOL circa 1996.
  • Because they come assembled, they have to have features for everyone and everything on by default — it’s too much clutter and too hard to make it go away. When you boil down what development teams actually want, it just ain’t that much.
  • Some are built on dated technology that doesn’t allow for use on mobile devices (or only extremely limited use), or on non-Windows computing platforms. Some are even browser specific, all of which is nuts in the 21st century.

We’ll be walking through what I’ve built using Smartsheet to manage rollout development for a restaurant chain that’s building both corporate-owned and franchisee-owned restaurants nationwide. As we do this, I don’t want this to become an overly technical article, so I’ll defer to Smartsheet for the really specific nitty gritty how-tos of using their software (another thing I like about Smartsheet is that they have great resources for learning to use their tools). To that point, here’s a great overview from Smartsheet of what their tools can do.

The Setup

The solution I’m reviewing here uses Smartsheet’s Business level plan with their Control Center add-on. Control Center is really amazing, it allows admins to create what Smartsheet calls Blueprints, which are really a set of spreadsheet templates that are pre-linked to each other as well as to other sheets designed to compile data from all of these templates once they get spun up into real projects. After you create a Blueprint, users can launch it to spin up new locations for the chain where they get fill-in-the-blank type screens for stuff like the city, state, building metrics, and so on — really as many inputs as you need for whatever you need, it’s totally customizable, and you can control what kinds of data go into each prompt to prevent people going off standard. From there, Control Center inputs that data into the templates (maintaining all the links) and organizes all of it into folders and sub-folders specific to the new location. User access/assignments and dashboard reporting are all automatically deployed at this time based on the templates you create as well. It really is magical and a huge time saver.

Smartsheet is accessed via web browsers and they have apps for mobile devices so you can get to your data from anywhere on any device, though complex edits are more cumbersome on mobile devices. You can also export your sheets as XLS and PDF files if needed. Backups can be automated to protect your data as well.

There are always going to be weirdo projects that have one-off needs within management systems like this, so another thing Smartsheet does really well is that it allows you to improvise on these kinds of projects by adding stuff or changing stuff within project folders, even altering links to Dashboards, all without breaking the well-oiled machine.

What I Built & What it Does

I named my creation Development Hub, as it tracks all development activity and then reports it out to Dashboards and sends push notifications out to project team members. I think the best way to explain how I make it all work is a mind map showing the connections, so here it goes…

What’s shown above is for corporate-owned projects, so there’s an additional layer to all of this to track development for franchisee-owned projects too, and that works like this…

What’s shown above is for corporate-owned projects. Franchisee-owned projects are tracked in much the same way, but everything above works behind the scenes from the franchisee’s point of view. A franchisee-specific Dashboard is generated from this data for them to see and interact with for their projects, which looks like this in the mind map…

One of the reasons that I like Smartsheet for this work so much is that its database works the same way a BIM database does in that you want to push information to the highest level in the database so that if that information changes (which it always does, right?) then you just change it in one place and it flows down through everything else in the database — no errors or omissions this way!

Up Next

In Part 2 we’ll take a close look at the trackers spun up for each individual project and see how the data in them informs the development process.

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