WestEd Uses Smartsheet to Instill a Culture of Success

Through its research and development programs, WestEd helps improve the American education system, but the company needed a lesson in project management. By adopting Smartsheet to manage projects and processes, WestEd is able to focus on student success.


  • Education

Organization Size

  • Mid-market (200-1999)


  • North America

Use Cases

  • Collaboration
  • Project Visibility

"I can’t tell you how excited I was when I began exploring Smartsheet. It can be as simple as Excel or as complicated as MS Project. Since there are varying levels of tech-savviness at WestEd, it was just what we needed to introduce project management."

Yvonne Keene

Director of Technology and Services

As a nonprofit research and development organization, WestEd contributes to all aspects of the American education system: from building state standards and assessments to creating training programs for caregivers, increasing early childhood literacy, and educating teachers about school climate. The organization is a Joint Powers Agency, authorized by a California Joint Powers Agreement and with board members from its key territories in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah, and others from across the country.

“Our business is based on grants and contracts — and WestEd works on hundreds each year,” explains Yvonne Keene, director of technology and services. “When you strip away the educational content from the contracts, a lot of what our staff does is project management — and yet up until three years ago, the basics of project management weren’t widely acknowledged as a key to our success.”  

Without a formal project management system in place, WestEd employees selected a variety of tools to coordinate their work and manage deliverables. Some used Excel, some tried Microsoft Project, while others experimented with open-source tools.

“We struggled for years to find a solution that all of WestEd and our contractors could standardize on,” says Keene. “Time and time again we would see the same challenges: 1) confusion over what needed to be scheduled and 2) clearly defined roles missing from the schedule. Teams struggled to put project plans together.”

The result of ad hoc project management solutions was a nightmare, says Jason Hayes, enterprise information systems project manager. “Our teams had version control issues, confusion over deliverables, and a lack of clarity with management over timelines and schedules. We’re a decentralized organization working with hundreds of outside vendors and contractors, and we desperately needed an easy way to communicate schedules and responsibilities.”

Time for a Change

Keene set out to educate all WestEd employees about project management and knew she needed a tool to help her introduce the concepts.

“You can’t teach people about project management without giving them a practical way of executing those ideas,” she says. In brainstorming different ways to help WestEd adopt a project management-oriented culture, Keene was introduced to Smartsheet.

After one pilot project, Keene was confident Smartsheet was the right solution. With the CEO’s sponsorship, the IT department simply made it available to the rest of the company as an opt-in tool.

“Since we introduced Smartsheet, it’s gone viral,” says Keene. “In 2010, we started with just 40 users, which quickly grew to 200 in three months. Today we have well over 400 employees using Smartsheet to manage their team projects.”

The team relies on key Smartsheet functionality such as update requests, cell linking, and automated alerts and reminders to ensure nothing falls through the cracks. Soon after adopting Smartsheet, WestEd began using Box to share files. With the two tools working seamlessly together, it’s been an unstoppable collaboration combination.

Increased Collaboration, Visibility into Projects

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is an example of one of the many projects WestEd is involved in, led by research associate Greg Hill. Smarter Balanced is a state-led consortium working to develop next-generation assessments that accurately measure student progress toward college- and career-readiness.  The consortium involves over 600 representatives from over 26 states with a federal budget of $176 million – and Hill keeps it all on track in Smartsheet.

“With stakeholders spread throughout the country, Smartsheet has been incredibly helpful for us in ensuring transparency and collaboration across everyone during the course of this project,” says Hill. “We use Smartsheet to carefully manage the many project schedules and also streamline communication. It’s at the core of our document management system. We use it to facilitate review and feedback cycles with stakeholders, to plan and track project communications, and it is the primary method our vendors use to submit project deliverables. We also use it to track and report project issues and risks. In short, if it’s important, it’s in Smartsheet.”

Upstairs at WestEd’s San Francisco-based headquarters, the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) uses Smartsheet to stay on top of multiple projects. “Our department works on over 80 projects each year, and it’s my job to keep all of the balls in the air,” explains Kelly Gerstbacher, program coordinator for REL. “Smartsheet is what helps me stay on track – I’m in it all day, everyday. I don’t know how I’d do my job without it.”

In addition to Hill and Gerstbacher’s projects, Smartsheet is used for hundreds of other projects and processes across WestEd and its web of contractors and vendor agencies, including:

  • Project planning and timelines

  • Grant management and reporting

  • Deliverable tracking

  • Issue logs

  • Team task lists

  • Finances and annual budgets

  • Strategic planning

  • Vendor and contractor coordination

  • Website update requests and change logs

  • Asset and research management

With the majority of all the projects tracked and managed in Smartsheet, the WestEd leadership team has a clearer view of the work demands placed on the various departments.

New Habits for Success

In addition to providing increased productivity and transparency across the organization, Smartsheet is helping to instill a culture of success in project management.

“Smartsheet has helped all of us at WestEd to develop better project management habits and more systematic ways to achieve our goals.  It’s also provided us a standard, proven resource for efficient collaboration within and across teams,” says Hill.

Keene adds, “Now that I’ve used Smartsheet for over three years, I haven’t the foggiest idea how I got anything done before, and I’m not alone. Many of my colleagues have stopped me in the halls or sent me a quick note to tell me that Smartsheet has transformed the way they work. We’re able to do things we never thought possible before.”