updated: May 3rd, 2010 / Ross Johnson / 2 Comments

A Review of Basecamp, as Web Designers

As a creative type project management ranks on the “fun scale” somewhere between falling off a boat and getting assaulted by farm animals. Luckily the other advantages and benefits of being a business owner make doing project management work bearable. That being said I am always looking for ways to “ease the pain” of managing projects.

The problem with most (if not all) project management solutions is they are entirely too complicated and complex. Sure if you are managing a team of 100 you need some very complex capabilities. Then again if you are managing a team of 100 then you probably like doing project management and are a trained professional. In my case, I would much rather be painting, dreaming up the next design and thinking about a blog post. I simply don’t have the time or patience to be fiddling with priority levels, due dates, etc… Now that isn’t to say that those elements are not important (because they undoubtedly are), just that at this point of my business we are a small enough team that we don’t need a dedicated project manager and we seem to benefit greater by working rather than planning to work.

I have tried the GTD approach, paper to-do lists, plus a handful of other software and “kit” solutions but I always seem to come back to basecamp. There are a few key reasons that even though I have additional PM tools, basecamp is still the product of choice.

1. It is Simple

This is one of the key elements. It is simple to the core and that is a good thing… a very good thing. There is no doubt that the gentleman at 37 Signals boiled down the product into the core essentials of project management and fought off any urge to try and bloat it up with unnecessary elements. What are the key things that basecamp does well?

  • To-do lists
  • Task assignment
  • Due dates / Milestones (calendar-esk approach)
  • Writeboards (saved documents / information)
  • File storage / management
  • Messaging

Why do you need anything else? If you think about the core requirements of managing a project it doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.

2. It is Intuitive

There has never been a point when using Basecamp where I have thought “how do I do this?” I have never read an instruction manual, never watched a training video, never looked at a tutorial. Granted my company does web design, I should have a high understanding of the web… but I have never had an issue with clients being unable to use or figure the system out. It really is that simple, regardless of your level of skill you will instantly know how to use the application.

3. It Allows Collaboration

Technology has given us the gift of “meeting free” collaboration. Not to be a grump but meetings are unnecessary and underproductive. There are plenty of ways to keep projects moving forward, while collaborating and working on a team that doesn’t require interruptions. This allows higher levels of concentration and more productivity, after all on average it takes 15 minutes to get focused. If you are interuppted with e-mails, phone calls or meetings it takes longer and longer to regain focus.

By being able to check in when you are between tasks you can see and make updates with out losing focus or interrupting someone else.

Basecamp is perfect for telecommuters and remote teams. Additionally it can be a great resource to work with your clients, as they can add to-do’s, upload files and make edits and changes to documents through your writeboards.

Project Management Made Easy

Basecamp does exactly what I need it to, which is to make project management easy. Previously I would spend twice as much time trying to delegate and keep track of everything going on, additionally it was a constant frustration when something would slip through the cracks. If you are a small business owner and want to focus on growing your business and what you are passionate about rather than dealing with the day to day management details then you should give Basecamp a try. They offer a free personal account in which you can try out one plan to see if you like it, certainly worth a shot.

2 thoughts A Review of Basecamp, as Web Designers

  1. I completely agree. I’ve just spent a day trying about 10-15 different project management tools, including Subernova, Gatekeeper, 5pm and Feng Office, and while they all have virtues, Basecamp has the best workflow for me. (This is in the context of web projects that involve 3-6 people.) There’s a reason it is the most popular PM software. It doesn’t have *every* feature, but it has intelligently pared down the options to the ‘must haves.’

    The learning curve is really a non-factor, and this matters a lot when the client you’re collaborating with is not very technical. The nomenclature of other systems (tickets, issues etc.) is less intuitive for the typical designer/developer/client project. I usually don’t need to assign tickets when on a typical project, there are less than half a dozen people working and often 2-3.

    Being the industry standard is a good thing too, since I find it’s not unusual for clients to have used it before, so we are already starting from a place of relative comfort.

    Of course, any review of 10-15 products in a few hours is going to be shallow, but at the same time, if a developer can’t feel comfortable with a communication tool within about 10 minutes, there’s a good chance it’s going to fail with the client.

    Bjorn Thomson
  2. Hi,

    I would love yo hear your comments about Apollo: http://www.apollohq.com
    Apollo includes both project management and CRM. It has timers, calendar, cases&deals, Basecamp/Highrise import, and it looks like a real application… As web designers, I think you will love the way it looks and interacts with its users.

    Just my 2c… let us know if you need anything!

    Merc.

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