Project management technology fixes cheese maker's collaboration woes

Three companies talk about their experiences using Smartsheet project management tools to automate collaboration functions and processes.

When it comes to cheese and yogurt, the Swiss don't mess around.

So when Emmi of Switzerland acquired Cypress Grove, a goat cheese manufacturer in Arcata, Calif., in 2010, tracking and reporting quality control issues became an imperative. The problem was that Cypress Grove's data management and collaboration capabilities were less than ideal.

"A lot was going on, but nothing was being tracked," said Ian Ray, who has been Cypress Grove's network administrator for the past three years.

Cypress Grove Chevre Inc., which was formed in 1983 and currently employs 53 people, was making more than a dozen cheeses but had no project management technology, nor did it have any way to collaborate beyond using email.

With the pressure on from the new parent company to provide regular quality updates and keep it informed with other business data, Ray gathered a group of likely business users from various departments and tested three systems: Basecamp LLC's Web-based project management, Manymoon's social task management application (Manymoon is now part of Do.com) and Smartsheet.com Inc.'s project collaboration software. The group ultimately settled on Smartsheet because employees took to using it right away.

Ray says Smartsheet provides a Microsoft Excel-like interface with a strong collaboration capability built in. He bought 10 creator licenses, which mean only licensed users can initiate projects, but the files are usable and can be edited by anyone. Licenses are priced at $100 per creator per year with different enterprise-level pricing depending on the administration capabilities desired by the customer.

An organic adoption

It took about a year for the project collaboration management technology to work its way throughout the enterprise, said Ray. He described its adoption among departments as organic, fitting for a company that makes chevres with names like Purple Haze, Sgt. Pepper and PscheDillic.

"The operations department embraced it right away," Ray said, noting that the project management technology is now used by sales and marketing, finance, maintenance and human resources. Even the dairy department uses it for scheduling barn maintenance, cleaning tasks and its goat feeding system.

When changes are made, Smartsheet automatically alerts the people who need to know. That functionality allows the parent company to receive a food safety report on a weekly basis. Other departments within the organizations are also sent information automatically on an as-needed basis.

Smartsheet gives users the ability to create a spreadsheet and build automated processes around it to enable collaboration. Those capabilities generated a favorable response in the user community after a complete rebuild of the product in 2008, said Brent Frei, the co-founder of Smartsheet. "We leverage the [user interface] of a spreadsheet and lay it on top of a work collaboration product," he said.

Other companies that have adopted the Spreadsheet tool include YouTube, Sodexo Inc. and Dolby Laboratories Inc.

Project management for companies large and small

While larger companies typically integrate Smartsheet with other legacy programs, it tends to be a core system for smaller companies, Frei said. One such customer is Motion Federal Credit Union based in Linden, N.J. The cooperatively owned financial institution has 24 employees servicing 7,200 individual members, but the organization also branched out to serve 200 different companies in the general marketplace.

At the end of 2010, the $85 million financial institution was using Google applications for everything. There was no collaboration, no cross-team visibility and no awareness of how an individual's work fit into the bigger corporate picture. Arp Trivedi, the company's manager of administration, had a problem with that.

He felt new branch openings, human resources processes and new product development projects needed to be managed in a more efficient manner. The haphazard routines of a credit union founded in 1934 required an update.

"We had no template, no management tool for pulling all these things off, which were in many cases done by different people in different ways with different deliverables," Trivedi said.

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As a user of Google Apps Marketplace, Trivedi started researching several applications, narrowed it down to four and "found Smartsheet to be the most user friendly and robust." One of the things that drew Trivedi to the product is the fact that it uses a Google Apps firewall. As a result, the financial institution can protect its information as it uses Smartsheet's project management and collaboration capabilities.

Motion bought three creator licenses for Smartsheet for a little less than $500 per year. The company uses the tool for new financial product launches, for integrating other business platforms between partners and the credit union, marketing promotions, and on-boarding and off-boarding employees. Trivedi said the credit union can have up to 150 different projects going at once using the template-driven enterprise collaboration and project management tool. There's a single log-on into the organization's Google Apps domain, which is costing $4.51 per month per seat.

"The beautiful thing is [that we] don't have to teach anybody any sort of complicated technology," Trivedi said. He said one downside is that he hasn't yet gotten everyone on the Motion payroll to use it, but give him a little time. "If we can set up some planning around this, I know they'll adopt it," he said. "They'll be very receptive to that and appreciate it."

EMyth busts out and rebrands

EMyth, a 35-year old business coaching company with 50 employees based in Ashland, Ore., was using Excel for tracking projects when Ben Ostergaard was brought in as part of a new management group in late spring of 2011. Ostergaard, who serves as the company's chief operating officer and chief financial officer, said the firm was stagnating at the time.

"One of our biggest assets is content used to guide clients through the coaching process," Ostergaard said. One part of the new plan was to build a coaching platform based on the EMyth materials online. That content amounts to 120 different business "lessons" each using various interactive elements on a new online platform that had to be created from a collection of PDFs.

"We knew a technology overhaul was needed," he said. "In fact, we were looking at a soup-to-nuts re-imaging and transformation of the company." That overhaul would entail a website redesign, a rebranding, business systems migrations and a transition from Microsoft's Outlook to Gmail. Excel, Ostergaard said, was inadequate to the task.

EMyth hired Jackie Sangster as its director of program management in April of 2012 to create a system to enable orderly collaboration as the various projects were shepherded through to completion.

"I didn't have to spend any time training anyone on Smartsheet," Sangster said. Adoption occurred quickly, beginning with marketing, branding and IT last spring.

So far, Ostergaard said, the new system has saved 2,000 hours of meetings. The organization has met its first deliverable date of October 16 for the first phase of the rebranding and expects to have the project complete by this summer.

For his part, Ostergaard likes the fact that project status reports are always current and that there are "no version control issues." He said the organization considered Microsoft SharePoint, and noted that the popular collaboration technology can do "anything." But that might have been a liability in EMyth's case. "Considering the ease and simplicity of using Smartsheet, anything else would have been too much."

This was first published in January 2013

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