Information-Driven Design: Distributing Design Criteria via Smartsheet – Part 2

In Part 1 we looked at how Smartsheet can serve as a tool to help organize and disseminate design criteria for companies doing rollout development of their concept. We discussed how vitally important it is for the design criteria being referenced by external consultants like architects and engineers to be current and accurate.

In Part 2 we’ll cover how to build a pipeline of current and accurate design criteria between Smartsheet and the BIM authoring tool used by the architects and engineers. This pipeline of information is the automated magic that makes this workflow superior to everything that came before.

You’ll recall from Part 1 that we loaded up sheets with specifications in a schedule format where each row represented an individual fixture, furnishing, or piece of equipment. BIM content corresponding to each row was attached to that row. Smartsheet’s push notifications let external consultants and vendors know that changes have been made and are ready for download and export. With this functionality in mind, we’ll establish the information pipeline to the BIM. In the example of this workflow, we’ll use the architect as the external consultant and Archicad as the BIM authoring tool, but the workflow is essentially the same for other consultants and other BIM authoring tools.

The Workflow

Step 1: Notifications & Downloads

Once the organization makes changes (including additions and/or deletions) on a given schedule sheet, the architect receives an email notification highlighting the change from Smartsheet. The architect then opens the sheet and goes to the changes (if desired, the company can even have Smartsheet highlight the changed cells in the sheet itself for ease of identification) to download the new BIM content if applicable. If the change is to the specifications, the architect exports an XLS file of the schedule from Smartsheet as well.

In this example, we see a simple schedule entry with an Archicad Object attachment to download
Next, we can export the Smartsheet schedule to an XLS file, now we have model geometry and scheduling data for our Archicad PLN

Step 2: Updating the BIM with Changed BIM Content

The architect will add the BIM content to the library for their BIM, retiring old content if applicable. The updated library is reloaded and the new content gets verified in the BIM, including aligning the new content’s ID and classification with the corresponding schedule in the BIM. Next, the architect can then begin updating the scheduled specifications for this new BIM content.

Here, the architect brings the new Object into their PLN file and prepares it for receiving scheduling data automatically

Step 3: Updating the BIM with Changed Specifications

The architect imports the data from XLS file from Smartsheet into the BIM to update the properties of the BIM content with the changed scheduling information. Schedules in the BIM then automatically update with the changes, with no manual data entry required

This image shows the XLS file’s data being imported by Archicad to automatically update the corresponding Object and schedule in the BIM
Here’s the schedule in Archicad, all matched up with the original from Smartsheet and ready for CDs

This workflow is the same whether the architect is updating their template or a live project. The three step process can be completed in just a few minutes as well.

Another great feature of this workflow is that the company can allow the vendors who provide the stuff in the Smartsheet schedules to update those schedules and their attachments directly which effectively extends the information pipeline from the architect directly to the source of the information, further reducing opportunities for errors and omissions.

All Done!

Let’s be brutally honest here, no one likes doing prototypical updates — it’s boring af — so the more of it that we can leave to technology like we see in this workflow, the better off we all are. Having it be more accurate and timely is an added bonus. Distribution of a chain company’s design criteria is just one use of this workflow, so I’m hopeful that as more jump on board with it, we can begin leveraging Smartsheet APIs to have the workflow be even more automated than what’s shown here — like a plug-in for the BIM authoring tool that grabs all the content and data straight from Smartsheet. Bring it on!

Information-Driven Design: Distributing Design Criteria via Smartsheet – Part 1

For companies doing rollout development of their concepts, a big part of making sure buildings and spaces get designed right is making sure all of their external consultants are working off the latest and greatest design criteria. Having been on both sides of this important knowledge transfer, I’m here to tell you that it’s easier than ever to do this well thanks to technology.

I love this topic. It’s all about implementation. You can have the coolest design with the best content for your architects and engineers, but if you can’t organize all that information in a way that makes it easy for those outside of your organization to use, you lost.

To make sure we don’t take an L, we’re leveraging information-driven design workflows to take the design criteria for a concept from the organization’s design department out to their consulting architects and engineers. The heart of this workflow will be Smartsheet, a web-based database centered around powerful interactive spreadsheets.

Step 1: Organize the Content into Schedules

The first step is for the company doing the rollout development to organize their BIM content (Families, Objects, whatever you want to call them) into categories related to how that content would be scheduled in construction documents. Depending on the content, you’ll want to organize it by vendor, procurement or installation responsibilities, purpose, or something else. This exercise should allow you to identify common scheduling characteristics (manufacturer, model, finish, utility connection types, etc.) which will become the columns of the schedule chart. The rows of the schedule chart will be each individual piece of content. Now you’ll know how many schedules you need, what’s in each schedule, and how each schedule charts out its information.

Step 2: Build the Schedules

Next, we’ll begin building the schedules from Step 1 in Smartsheet. Each schedule will be its own sheet. The sheets can be organized within Smartsheet into folders which will come in handy for assigning access privileges later on. First, set up columns based on the scheduling characteristics determined in Step 1 then begin adding each piece of content in the rows.

Your vendors can help populate these schedules accurately with current information if you want to give them access to the sheets. This is key to making all of the information accurate, especially once everything is up and running as we’ll see later on.

The individual files for the BIM content as well as any product data get attached to the row in the schedule to which they belong. Smartsheet has version tracking so if the BIM content needs to be updated later on just upload a new file with the same filename to preserve history. This version tracking also applies to the contents of the cells in the schedule. Having a history to look back on is super helpful to both the organization and the external consultants once everything has been up and running for a while.

A completed schedule might look something like this…

This is what schedules look like in Smartsheet

Step 3: Grant Access

Once completed and populated with the initial content, each schedule will also leverage Smartsheet’s push notifications. You’ll set up the sheets to push notify everyone who needs to be made aware each time there’s a change made. Those people will get automated emails from Smartsheet highlighting the changes so they can take action and update their BIMs, and in turn the documentation created from those BIMs.

To make notifications work, you’ll first step up all of the users who need access to the sheets of schedules and BIM content. These are your external consultants and vendors. People can have read and/or write access to the sheets depending on who they are and what their needs may be. You can further organize users into groups based on their companies and/or level of access to make it easier to assign people and update them later on as people come and go from these external companies. As you set up users, Smartsheet pushes out email invitations to get set up in your company’s Smartsheet workspace.

Step 4: Set Up Sheets for Other Design Criteria

Smartsheet is useful for other types of design criteria that aren’t necessarily schedule-based. For example, prototypical details for construction documents can be disseminated through sheets with version-tracking and push notifications as well. Here’s an example of that…

You can organize prototypical detail content in Smartsheet too

Another type sheet you can make is instructional, where you explain to external consultants how to handle the design criteria. Here’s an example of an instructional sheet explaining distribution of deliverables created from the design criteria. Again, push notifications allow people to be made aware of changes in an automated fashion.

Using Smartsheet to explain distribution requirements for design deliverables

These non-schedule sheets won’t interact with the consultants’ BIM authoring tools in the ways we’ll cover in Part 2, but they are still a great way to leverage technology to distribute design criteria.

End Users Download & Create

With everything up and running in Smartsheet, your external consultants can visit the sheets to begin downloading BIM content, product data, and exporting sheets. In Part 2, we’ll look at how these downloads and exports from Smartsheet drive information in the BIM and eliminate the coordination headaches common to every other method of distributing design criteria.

The Smartsheet for Rollout Development Series

This is a landing page for the Smartsheet for Rollout Development articles I’ve published. Here, you can find links out to all of those articles in one convenient spot.

To briefly summarize this great series, I ❤️Smartsheet and think it’s a fantastic way for architects to build databases (outside of the BIM) that inform project delivery and show our value as the head of the project team. I share a detailed example of how to do that in this four-part series and the example is a database for a restaurant chain to track their rollout development of multiple locations across the country. Once you see how it all works, you’ll quickly come up with your own ideas of how Smartsheet can imporve any technology-driven architecture practice.

Part 1

This introduces the tools I used and provides an overview of what I built with Smartsheet.

Go to Smartsheet for Rollout Development, Part 1

Part 2

Here, we get into the details of what each template sheet does for each project in the database and how they link together to help visualize all the data.

Go to Smartsheet for Rollout Development, Part 2

Part 3

In Part 3, I cover the technical details of how the build comes together, and I also get into managing change.

Go to Smartsheet for Rollout Development, Part 3

More articles on how architects can leverage Smartsheet are on the way!

Smartsheet for Rollout Development, Part 3

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.

In Part 1 I introduced the concept of using Smartsheet for tracking the development of multiple projects simultaneously for a chain concept doing rollout development. We continued with Part 2, where I explained how my build works to support this effort and how it’s all interconnected to form a database using Smartsheet’s Control Center add-on.

For Part 3, I’ll wrap up my thoughts on this system by covering how the building of this database works with Smartsheet and their staff and I’ll touch upon what else architects can use Smartsheet for in their work.

How the Build Works

When a Smartsheet user/organization decides to add on the Control Center package to their service, Smartsheet will assign that organization a Customer Success Manager as a resource to help guide that organization though maintenance and changes to their Smartsheet database. Smartsheet also brings staff members who specialize in standing up new Control Center installations on board to help the organization get their new Control Center up and running. I’ve found these specialists to be a great resource as they’re quite skilled at converting a vision for a system into reality and they possess deep knowledge of all of Smartsheet’s features and formulas.

It’s important for the organization to identify a point person to interact with Smartsheet and organize the goals for Smartsheet into a clear vision that can be communicated to Smartsheet’s specialists. This person will need to be on-call in the early days of the build to react to things the specialists are setting up and to even help modify some of that work to help provide direction to Smartsheet for the Control Center configuration.

Updates & Changes

Change is inevitable with this kind of system and it’s pretty easy to manage with a setup based around the Control Center add-on. Depending on the desired changes or updates, you may just need to go into a template sheet and fix something or adjust a setting in your Control Center Blueprint (any updated sheets also need a quick refresh in the Blueprint too). I’ve also added on new sheet templates and new sheets to aggregate data for Dashboards to existing Control Center Blueprints and that’s not difficult either. I’ve found the Blueprint to be pretty flexible and reliable in managing change over time.

This is a good spot to point out a couple of Smartsheet’s admin features that are relevant to updates and changes. The Groups feature I covered in my previous articles is a good way to set up an admin Group. That admin Group should be the only Group with write access to the folder containing your Control Center sheet templates. Another part of Control Center is that it has its own super complex sheet (don’t worry, you’ll never need to do anything with it) that should be in this same restricted admin folder. Your aggregator sheets also go here. It’s a good idea to keep a subfolder of old drafts or abandoned sheets in this same spot.

What Else Can Architects Do with Smartsheet?

I’ve mentioned that Design Criteria is a part of the Development Hub I created in Smartsheet, and that’s a topic I’ll be writing about in more detail soon. But know that Smartsheet is an outstanding tool for architects to organize and disseminate a chain concept’s Design Criteria, or even their own firm’s standards.

I’ve recently begun experimenting with taking data roundtrip between Smartsheet and my BIM authoring tool, ARCHICAD. I’ve found a process for this that I’ll write about soon. This is an area of Smartsheet that has big potential for architects though — imagine coordinating data in the BIM with a vendor online via Smartsheet, and using Smartsheet’s push notifications for calls to action in managing updates between the data in the sheet and the data in the BIM — cool!

Final Thoughts

I ❤️ Smartsheet! This tool has huge potential as architects enter the age of information-driven design. I think Smartsheet’s blank canvas approach is something that architects in particular will embrace. Everything I’ve covered in this series could be replicated for firms wanting more control over the management of all of their work or for organizing office standards. Smartsheet’s great licensing model means that it’s also a value-added service that architects can provide their clients, like giving them a Dashboard to check in on their project’s progress. I hope you feel inspired to give Smartsheet a try!

Smartsheet for Rollout Development, Part 2

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.

In Part 1 we reviewed why I like Smartsheet as a tool for tracking project delivery for chain concepts doing rollout development, and we saw the basics of what I’ve built. Here in Part 2, we’ll take a close look at the various trackers and Dashboards that power this Development Hub.

Development Hub Dashboard

This is the heart of the beast: an outward-facing Dashboard that gets used by the organization’s C suite and other departments/teams outside of the real estate, architecture, and construction professionals on the development team. The Development Hub Dashboard aggregates all of the data from all of the other trackers we’ll look at here in Part 2.

Before we look at all of the things in the Dashboard an important concept to understand about Smartsheet is that its Dashboards are like scrapbook pages for other sheets’ data. With the Control Center plugin we discussed in Part 1, a feature you get is the ability to have a sheet aggregate data from columns in other sheets that you specify. That aggregated data can then become a Report that gets pasted into the Dashboard and live updates. The Reported data is focused and abbreviated for the intended audience, which in our case are busy executives that want to see that shit’s getting built on time and on budget. With that in mind, let’s take a look at this big, centralized Dashboard…

Sample Development Hub Dashboard


Next, we’ll look at all the various tracking sheets that our Control Center Blueprint (explained in Part 1) spins up for us when it’s time to start a new project.

Schedule Tracker

This is the main tracking sheet. Smartsheet can automatically create Gantt charts and has you use a special sheet template to start them. This is the sheet template that was used to create our Schedule Tracker, which in turn becomes a template in our Control Center Blueprint. This is important to mention because Smartsheet’s Gantt chart sheets have the built in ability to recognize predecessors (in columns) as you assign them, which lets you connect milestones (in rows) to each other, something that has obvious benefits for scheduling project delivery. Let’s take a look…

Sample Schedule Tracker

Budget Tracker

You’ve got to track both time and money, so the Budget Tracker follows the money for us. The planning for this sheet requires coordination and buy-in from the organization’s accounting folks, as the goal here is to report on budget relative to schedule. Smartsheet has APIs that could be useful in connecting the budget numbers to accounting software, though I haven’t gone there yet with my work. There’s a whole conversation to be had during the planning stage as to how many line items you want to follow and how you want to track it all in Smartsheet. This Budget Tracker captures the original budget established by the development team and then compares it to the running total once the project goes live. Here’s a look…

Sample Budget Tracker

Vendor Trackers

Every chain has vendors they work with to supply fixtures, furnishings, equipment, and finishes to their construction sites. All of these vendors need to be able to forecast orders from the chain and receive live updates on delivery dates, so this tracker uses links to the Schedule Tracker discussed earlier to do its work. Smartsheet has the ability to push notify users of changes to sheets, and we use that feature here to send an email update to any vendor whose delivery dates have changed. It’s important to note that there are multiple versions of this tracker tailored to each vendor and I use Smartsheet’s Groups feature to grant read access for each vendor to the appropriate tracker. A typical vendor tracker looks like this…

Vendor Tracker Sample

Project Assessment Summary

This sheet is used during the Project Planning phase at the beginning of new projects to capture any issues or concerns identified from the regulatory and premises assessments. It also becomes the place where follow up on those issues or concerns to make sure they all get addressed. Like the Vendor Tracker, I use push notifications to send out requests for follow up action to the appropriate team members. Here’s the setup for this sheet…

Project Summary Image

File Organizer

The File Organizer’s name says it all. As Smartsheet allows you to attach files to rows in sheets and even to version track them, I leverage that feature to provide a place to organize the deliverables and other documents that the organization needs to collect and archive for each project like so…

File Organizer Sample

Inspections & Licenses Tracker

This tracker performs two functions. First, it establishes a list of all the inspections and licenses a project requires (so it’s customized from the template for each specific project), and then it reports on the status of those inspections and licenses. As with some of the other trackers and sheets, we can push notify team members any time an issue pops up that needs special attention.

Inspections & Licenses Tracker Sample

Franchisee Project Dashboard

When a project is franchisee-owned, this Dashboard aggregates data from the sheets discussed above to produce a concise high-level view of the project’s development details for the franchisee. The Dashboard is organized like this…

Project Dashboard Sample

Setting Up Who Sees What

Smartsheet’s Groups allow admins to create groups of users and set their read/write privileges. I create Groups for each department in the organization as well as for the contacts at each consultant and vendor firm. These Groups get assigned access to all the sheets one time in the Control Center Blueprint so that as new projects get spun up, the appropriate people are already connected to them, plus you can tweak those assignments on a project by project basis if needed. Each franchisee is a Group too.

Other Parts of Development Hub

Smartsheet’s Dashboards can also provide links to other sheets, and I use this feature to provide links to development-related resources that other departments in the organization might need. It all ends up being very specific to the organization in terms of content.

One piece that becomes a resource for every organization is the Design Criteria. I’ll be writing a more detailed article another time about disseminating Design Criteria through Smartsheet, but for now, know that all of the stuff I wrote about here a few years back gets organized and distributed through Smartsheet and linked back on the Development Hub Dashboard, among other places. These resources are shown in the Development Hub Dashboard image near the top of the article.

Coming Up in Part 3

Next time, we’ll wrap up our look at Smartsheet as a development tracking tool. We’ll discuss how the building of all this works and look at what else I use Smartsheet for.

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.