Basecamp: Project Management In The Suite

August 19th, 2008

Basecamp ListingSome people regard Basecamp as the original web-based project manager, since it has inspired so many similar products, and has helped launch a thousand interface look-alikes. Basecamp continues to have a loyal following, offering basic project management as part of the 37 Signals productivity suite.  Its “web 2.0″ methodologies allow everyone working on a project, not just a project manager, to contribute notes and files to a central location, and to collaborate on project deliverables and due dates.

To see what Basecamp can do, let’s create a project together. After signing in we give our venture a name and see the Dashboard, where we would see updates on tasks (to do’s), writeboards, milestones, and messages. There are there a number of tabs at this top level, but it should be understood that at this point the Milestones and To-Dos tabs are dashboards for the whole system. This means that while you can see the latest activity in the Dashboard, you can see updates across all projects under these tabs. Tabs at this level allow you to watch or effect change across the projects, as we can see with the All People tab that allows us to add contacts into the system. Once we’ve initiated a project, a new set of tabs will open for us, showing us options for directly managing our project. Inside the project, management is divided into Overview, Messages, Todo, Milestones, Writeboard, and Chat tabs. Paying customers will also have a Time tab for time tracking, and a Files tab for file management.

Basecamp Overview Screenshot

Starting with the Messages tab, we see that creating messages is as easy as clicking a button on the right side of the screen, and if were not in the free account, would have the option of attaching documents to the message. Messages are assigned to categories, and can be attached to a “milestone” for future reference. Multiple comments can be added to each message, creating an impromptu discussion forum.

The Milestones tab lets us set markers for progress and does so through a calendar. Making a milestone is as easy as clicking a button (up to ten can be added at one time) and entering a title. There is no space for a description of the milestone, so the ability to attach messages to the milestone takes on extra value. A clever feature of the calendar based milestone feature is that when you change the date you can opt to automatically move all future milestones the same amount of days, even reordering the schedule so that milestones do not fall on a weekend.

The To-Do tab lets you create tasks and assign them to users. To-dos, like messages, can be attached to a milestone and are grouped into lists that can be ordered by drag and drop. Say we wanted to add a listing for every project management tool to Listio’s directory by the end of this week. We could put the individual applications as tasks under the heading of “Project Managers” and assign them to an already established milestone (milestones cannot be added on the fly). Comparing this to traditional project management, since there is no option to assign each task a deadline, the list attached to the milestone is the overall task to be completed, and the items in the list are dependent tasks.

Basecamp Screenshot

As milestones adjust to the schedule, the tasks go with them, making for a more flexible workflow. The oversight here is that when all of the tasks of a to-do list are completed, there is no indication that the attached milestone is also complete (you have to mark the milestone as complete manually). Also, if your to-do list grows, there is no prompt to change the milestone, or even a shortcut link over to the related milestone.

The Writeboards tab allows you to create or import text that can be applied for any purpose. Essentially it is a simple wiki – team members can edit it and access it through a specific url – that can exported as text or html. Options are available to save versions, compare them, and give access to clients.

The Chat tab requires you to set up an account with Campfire prior to chatting, but this is a one time requirement, and not necessary for your chat partners. Just invite them from Campfire and you can use the chat. Chatting could have value for project members who are working far from the office or who want to create a log of the discussion. Transcripts are available through Campfire, and users of Basecamp can add to their discussions by creating topics and uploading files up to 10mb.

With Basecamp there is also a “People & Permissions” tab that allows project managers to add profiles that are other companies and adjust the permissions of the project. Useful for managers who outsource or contract for components of the project, this lets managers control permissions down to the individual level, even if they are in an outside company.

Basecamp Permissions

The final tab, Search, allows you to search across the project. A number of other features are available with upgrades to paid plans (starting at $12 a month) including storage and branding options, but it is not until users reach the $49 a month level that they have access to SSL encryption or time tracking.

What we see with Basecamp is a sparseness in the pages, a Spartan approach to project management when compared to traditional (and expensive) desktop solutions. Each tab features one function, and only that one function, which in its own way revolutionized project management by simplifying navigation and drastically reducing the time to learn the application.  Basecamp is succeeding in a world of small, agile companies that do not and cannot have a full-time dedicated project manager. To find Basecamp or like applications there is the Listio search manage+projects.

Previously in this series: GoPlan: Basic Project Management
Next in this series: 5pm: Project Management Made Simple

Application: Basecamp HQ
Listio Profile:
Task and project manage safely and securely with Basecamp HQ. Track changes, keep in touch, and schedule with the application that makes the entire project accessible to the team.... Learn more

New to Listio? Our tag cloud search offers an easy way to narrow your hunt for the perfect web application or service. No more second guessing of search terms. Just click on one tag, then as many more as you'd like to narrow your search results. It's easy and ensures you get to the listing you want. Finding web 2.0 was never so easy.

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7 Responses to “Basecamp: Project Management In The Suite”

  1. Keane Says:

    Agree with the fact that Basecamp works for smaller groups, but odds are, it won’t work for companies bigger than say, 10 people, especially a company who is brimming with client work. Reason being is that it’s almost TOO basic, you can’t allocate resources (designate hours/day for a certain person). This causes serious bottlenecks, mostly when new projects hit and deadlines can’t be made because everyone is already maxed, and Basecamp doesn’t show you that everyone is already maxed. However, the great thing about smaller companies is that you can easily just sit down and say “Hey Dave, can you take on this project?” and get an answer immediately, and for that scenario, Basecamp is perfect.

  2. Mike Says:

    Keane is right. Basecamp works better for really small groups of people. We’ve used it and now we feel we’ve outgrown it. I mean the business has become more mature, and Basecamp is simply not enough. By the way, Basecamp has been reviewd soooo many times! Why don’t you write about something diffrent. How about tools for bigger teams? We are in a search of one right now and looking at wrike. How about reviewing it in your blog?

  3. Jonathan Says:

    If you ask me, Basecamp is over hyped. I created an alternative in 2 weeks and its free to anybody who needs Basecamp functionality (see if you are interested). I’ve been adding more features in each day. Project management websites aren’t rocket science.

  4. Mario Says:

    Mike, have you heard about I’m also looking for an alternative to Basecamp.
    Maybe you should check this:
    Please let me know if you find a nice software!
    mtfl04 at hotmail

  5. Steve Says:

    You can also try Manymoon, it’s free:

    With Manymoon you can:
    * Managed private and shared To Do Lists and Projects.
    * Upload documents and add them to tasks and projects.
    * Integrate with Google Docs and Google Calendar.
    * Automatically convert emails into tasks.
    * Twitter-like feature to let people know what you are working on.

  6. Dane Says:

    Hey Guys -

    If you’re trying to work with a big group of relatively unsophisticated users, you should check out ProjectSpaces – It focuses on simplicity and doing the basics in the simplest way possible and provides a highly usable collaboration platform for users who aren’t yet web 2.0 converts.
    ProjectSpaces also offers a 30-day trial so you can test it out.

  7. Tryns Says:

    Hi, about 6 months me and my team using to manage our projects, we creating web-application for freelance and services from 5pmweb save a lot of our time…

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