Quick Video Take: Smartsheet’s Robin Sherwood on the Future of Project Management

Todd Pruzan, HBR

Welcome to Quick HBR Video Shooting. I’m Todd Pruzan, editor for research and special projects at Harvard Business Review. The past two years have accelerated growth and change in an unprecedented way. And as we all know, this change has profoundly influenced where, how and why we work.

Today I’m with Robin Sherwood, VP of Product Management at Smartsheet, to talk about what the future of project management looks like. Robin’s unique background in project management software has him well positioned to tell us how the industry has changed and where it is going. Robin, thank you very much for being with us today.

Robin Sherwood, Smartsheet

Oh, thank you, Todd.

Todd Pruzan, HBR

Robin, what is the future of project management software? What role does Smartsheet play in it?

Robin Sherwood, Smartsheet

I think what we see with our clients is that the term “project management” refers to a much wider audience than what we would call project managers. There are so many things that we would call project-based work, meaning anything that has a goal, is time-based, and has a clear assignment. Project-based work really can be anything. It can be a marketing campaign. It could be a merger-acquisition. It could be a new product launch.

And it’s not just about delivering a single project; it’s really about delivering projects consistently and increasingly efficiently. And so, we believe that the process that surrounds project management is something that needs to continually evolve. And that’s why our mission is to empower everyone to make meaningful change within their organization. It’s really around this continuous improvement and improving the processes for the delivery of work.

Todd Pruzan, HBR

OK, so why isn’t traditional project management software meeting the needs of the modern workforce?

Robin Sherwood, Smartsheet

I think there are really two challenges. On the one hand, you have this status quo, which is really based on emails and spreadsheets. And it’s been there for decades. And teams need a way to organize their work. They need a way to build this process around repeated work management. And these traditional tools are difficult. They do not require real-time communication. They do not support status and visibility. And people are often confused about the current state of affairs.

On the other hand, you have traditional project and portfolio management tools that are highly structured and high performing, but don’t allow teams to scale this process as changes are needed. And that’s where you see the rise of collaborative work management, which is really about bringing all of these things together in a way that allows for high-level status reporting and visibility across an entire portfolio of work while allowing teams to be deeply engaged. in a single tool that allows them to understand what their deliverables and expectations are.

Todd Pruzan, HBR

Robin, you mentioned collaborative work management software. Can you elaborate a bit on that?

Robin Sherwood, Smartsheet

I think it comes down to this process challenge. We like to think of things as looking for overall consistency. As a business, you need to be able to make strategic decisions, and you need to be able to compare all the things going and make compromises. But we also believe that local teams understand their local processes best and are most capable of improving their own efficiency. And so, we see that as – we like to think about things like global coherence with local autonomy.

The other thing is that we think these tools need to have the ability to make these process changes without having to ask permission. They don’t need to go to an IT admin or someone managing the tool to make a change that really only affects the efficiency of the local team.

The other element that we consider extremely important in the management of collaborative work is collaboration without borders. A lot of these tools are based on this licensing model which really prohibits people from participating. And we believe that to be more effective, you really need to bring all the relevant stakeholders together in the same environment. Borderless collaboration means you can not only work with cross-functional teams or departmental teams, but you can really start to engage more directly and effectively with customers, partners and suppliers. And this will be the source of a real strategic advantage and efficiency within your organization.

Todd Pruzan, HBR

Well, Robin, that’s been a great conversation. Thank you so much for joining us today and for all your ideas.

Robin Sherwood, Smartsheet

Thanks Todd.


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