Basecamp. A Project Manager’s Friend.

Basecamp

How many hours of your life have you spent rifling through emails and looking for all the bits associated with projects? And how often have you been cc’d into an email that was only marginally relevant to your work?

If you’re into managing projects and keeping things together, then Basecamp is your friend. Basecamp is an online project-management system that keeps all of your project’s communications in one place. It comes with both paid and free packages, and while there are some excellent alternative tools out there, we find it one of the easiest to use.

Recently, Ben Sauer used it to manage our work with BBC World Service on the Talking America project. Here, he explains why he is a self-professed ‘Basecamp fanatic’…

- Premasagar


How it changed the way I work

While working at my former company as a producer/director, we found that Basecamp transformed our business as soon as we started using it. We loved it, and so did our clients.

Before that, in the dark days, most of the decision-making and knowledge was buried in emails several replies deep. Since then, I have lived by a philosophy of minimal email.

The magic of Basecamp lies in commitment

Over time, I’ve become a Basecamp fanatic. Having an online project management system enables a new way of working, providing a central hub for all action points, project milestones, decisions and communications. To make the system a success, anything discussed outside of Basecamp needs to be added back in. For example, points covered in phone conversations and meetings.

People do sometimes need reminding to use it, and anything outside of Basecamp needs to be put in – including action points, milestones and the points covered in telephone calls. If someone in a team sends a group email instead of using Basecamp, I will usually copy the email into a new thread in Basecamp. This might seem pedantic, but the truth is that the system is only useful if you stick to it. It devalues very quickly if communications fall outside of it.

Opting out and dipping in

Things are made easier by the way that Basecamp integrates email. You can choose to have email notifications of new messages and, if you reply via email, your message will simply be added to the Basecamp thread. Whenever someone feels that their attention is not required, they can opt out of notifications.

On the BBC project, I hardly ever included the top decision-maker in email notifications. Any time that he wanted to see how things were going, he could just log into the system.

Working with clients

I have seen a shift in the way that teams work together once they start using a system like Basecamp. For Talking America, the World Service jumped in head-first. They understand that it brings greater transparency, and more efficient issue management and knowledge transfer.

We use Basecamp with most of our clients. Even if there is a slight learning curve, it’s worth it because we get to spend more time on the projects and less on administration.

If you’re interested in learning more about Basecamp, if you’re a project manager and you’ve used it before, or if you have another system for project management that works well for you, then we’d love to hear your thoughts.

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38 CommentsRSS Feed

  1. Looks interesting. I’ll have to try it.

  2. Basecamp probably has the largest share in the online PM tool market, but the number of PM tools out there (with an option to import your projects from Basecamp) is growing by the day (literally). The thing is, until now, most (if not all) of them do not offer anything substantially new.

    I think in a year from now things will be a bit different, when large companies (Microsoft, Oracle, etc…) will have their say when they release their tools.

  3. Smith

    Like the last poster said– there are tons of tools out there. My opinion is that although basecamp has the largest market share, it definitely is NOT the best. Check out http://www.whybasecampsux.org/ — besides discussing some of basecamp’s shortcomings, it has a great list of alternatives.

  4. Basecamp (37Signals) has done an excellent job of sticking to a simple design philosophy that doesn’t overwhelm most web literate users.

    The challenge Basecamp and other online project tools face is not the willingness of the project champions/leads to use it…it’s trying to get the contributors (who usually comprise the bulk of those involved) to remember to make updates. Having to remember a URL, username, and password is often enough to cause someone to revert to the e-mail and attachment approach.

    Prior to embarking on the development effort of Smartsheet v2, we realized that for a collaborative project/work tracking solution to be broadly adopted, it would have to be frictionless for those invited to the process. Our goal – enable the project champion to maintain security and control while not forcing contributors to remember a URL, username, or password.

    With people (rightfully) being very selective at what they introduce to their daily routine, I would encourage people to look at alternatives as well. Most solutions offer free-to-premium plans and it takes no time to sign up and experience a few.

    Remember to not only ask, ‘how will I feel using this everyday?’ The more important question (assuming you work with others) is ‘will the people I ask to use this, actually use this?’

  5. Thanks for your comments – and for the link to project management alternatives, Smith. SmartSheet sounds interesting, Mark. I’d like to check it out.

    Yes, there are many decent tools out there – and most of them offer a significant advantage over regular group emails. A really nifty feature – not only of Basecamp – is to be able to email into the system. That way you get the best of both worlds.

    And it’s not only for web development projects. Anything that requires collaborative input from a team will benefit. For example, I understand that Speak It! Films now use Basecamp on all of their new film projects.

    Do tell us your experiences using different project management systems, or using standard email alone. How did it work out for you?

  6. Isaac

    Have you seen GeniusRoom? It’s fairly new. Similar to Basecamp but with a focus on real-time communications. It’ll be interesting to see how it’s received.

  7. Helena

    I had been using Basecamp for 3 years before I realized that there are PM tools that offer much more. I realized that it isn’t all about the simplicity that 37 signals emphasizes. Thus, I started looking for a new tool that will not be as basic as Basecamp. I’ve seen many and my favorite so far is ProjectOffice.

  8. In a recent talk, Stewart Mader discussed using a simple wiki (a tool for collaborative documentation) to achieve effective project management.

    Wikis are, of course, not just for project management – they can be used by groups to document anything. So that will be either a strength or weakness when used for project management, depending on the particular project.

    Some of the wiki tools we discussed were Confluence, WetPaint, SocialText and ClearSpace.

  9. Basecamp isn’t really project management. It’s task management. It works great for freelancers, but agencies may find it lacking as a pm tool. A lot of the newer project management apps are taking it to the next level by adding other necessary features like time tracking, invoicing, and lightweight scheduling. For an example, check out Intervals

  10. Hey Premasagar & Ben,

    We have been using collaboration tools to share workflow information with clients as well. I completely agree, there really is so much added value due to this sharing. Also i think in the long run productivity gains are immense. We’ve been using Deskaway to do the same. If you haven’t paid Basecamp yet, id honestly recommend you to move to DeskAway. Its cheaper and the interface is neater. Plus the analytics is an added benefit which is probably THE thing that a client wants to see.

  11. You might like this link ’15 free tools for web based collaboration’ – sums up all the options available nicely http://tinyurl.com/6g854m

  12. Basecamp is an excellent tool and I agree with Mark, they’ve done a great job of sticking to a simple design philosophy. That’s true. I also agree that email integration is very important. That’s why we made it the essential feature of Wrike. Email is still the most popular collaboration tool in thousands of companies and it has good and bad impacts. The good thing about email is that it’s easy to use. The bad thing – it buries tons of knowledge. That’s why we think that an email engine that lets you create tasks and upload files through email, update items, or easily bring your whole email discussions to the shared workspace in the real time is vital. This tremendously helps on the ease of access and on the adoption sides, helping to break the most important problem with online tools – the fact that information often bypasses them in emails.

  13. Thank you everyone for sharing your thoughts and suggestions. It’s really helpful and encouraging to hear all the different ways that projects can be managed more effectively.

  14. We’re venturing into development of new software, and Basecamp is brilliant for giving me a fast and easy engine to work within.

    Cheers for putting this together, please add more Comments here if there are similar blog efforts like this out there – I’ll try to reference them during my presentations about Basecamp.

  15. @FranksIRM – There’s a whole slew of productivity tools available for the specialist area of project management for software development.

    For example, Unfuddle for issue tracking and version control with Subversion/ Git repositories, and – if it ever launches – Tails promises to be a slick and simple system for bug tracking.

    Since this article was published, there’s been an interesting post on different kinds of project management tools at Smashing Magazine.

  16. Try Manymoon, it’s free:

    http://www.manymoon.com

    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.

  17. @PremaSagar
    Brilliant.
    Recently, I’ve tried iTeamwork, and this has more robust emailing features than Basecamp, with the same general look and feel (…and terminology!).
    To wit, the “bonus features” in iTeamwork are similar to the (ignored) enhancement requests submitted by Basecamp users.
    Hurm…

  18. If you are after a tool that offers a wider range of project and resource management features – take a look at iPlanWare TeamWorks PPM and project management software

  19. Thanks for sharing this post

  20. The challenge Basecamp and other online project tools face is not the willingness of the project champions/leads to use it…it’s trying to get the contributors (who usually comprise the bulk of those involved) to remember to make updates.

  21. penny

    Thanks for the article. Basecamp integrates email. You can choose to have email notifications of new messages and, if you reply via email, your message will simply be added to the Basecamp thread. Whenever someone feels that their attention is not required, they can opt out of notifications.

  22. Basecamp is at the top right now because of its simplicity but alternatives always give a new era in the current working mode and some alternative may be future best.
    37signals has had an almost religiously held notion of “less software” which in many ways it is a brilliant philosophy but the actual thing is that when everything is going online everyone would like a central place to do their job and basecamp does not provide any features as are provided today by many of its alternatives.

    The best one i have found and currently using is ProofHub(www.proofhub.com). It’s dead simple and actually designed to work they way everyday people work, instead of making them adapt to something new. Paid as well as free versions available.

  23. val

    Its always good to learn tips like you share for blog posting. As I just started posting comments for blog and facing problem of lots of rejections. I think your suggestion would be helpful for me. I will let you know if its work for me too.

  24. dat

    Nice article. I quickly came to the conclusion that the single most important factor was the use of a flipchart.This proved to me once again that when it comes to series brainstorming, the humble flipchart is a project manager’s best friend.

  25. Hybrid

    Well i think that having an online project management system enables a new way of working, providing a central hub for all action points, project milestones, decisions and communications. To make the system a success, anything discussed outside of Basecamp needs to be added back in.

  26. Rehab

    The facility to share and collaborate on documents and tasks online is essential to a lot of businesses. Basecamp have always stood out from the crowd in terms of creativity. Thumbs up from me!

  27. Onca

    Nice article. Well I will usually copy the email into a new thread in Basecamp. This might seem pedantic, but the truth is that the system is only useful if you stick to it. It devalues very quickly if communications fall outside of it.

  28. Thanks for sharing this post

  29. Peter

    We’re venturing into development of new software, and Basecamp is brilliant for giving me a fast and easy engine to work within.

    Cheers for putting this together, please add more Comments here if there are similar blog efforts like this out there – I’ll try to reference them during my presentations about Basecamp. Regards

  30. chicken coops for sa

    I always use the basecamp. Basecamp is a project management platform used by many businesses, and considering the number of SMBs on BlackBerry, it’s surprising a native app hasn’t yet been developed.

  31. India

    Useful information shared.I am very happy to read this article.thanks for giving us nice information.about Basecamp is an online project-management system.I appreciate this post.This is help me for managing projects.

  32. Nice article. Well I will usually copy the email into a new thread in Basecamp. This might seem pedantic, but the truth is that the system is only useful if you stick to it. It devalues very quickly if communications fall outside of it.

  33. Favoriten

    Big Thanks for the post@Premasagar, its really containing nice knowledge and I really like the blog.

    regards

  34. Pete

    We’re venturing into development of new software, and Basecamp is brilliant for giving me a fast and easy engine to work within.

    Cheers for putting this together, please add more Comments here if there are similar blog efforts like this out there – I’ll try to reference them during my presentations about Basecamp.

  35. BB Team

    Nice article. I quickly came to the conclusion that the single most important factor was the use of a flipchart.This proved to me once again that when it comes to series brainstorming, the humble flipchart is a project manager’s best friend.
    King Regards, BB Team

  36. Hey Ben, what you say is very much right, we spend our lives going through such scenarios and hardly try things that could actually work! One has to think and make sure all the efforts are done in the right direction, I personally liked the fact that you stand out in the are you step in to. I will make sure next time I take up anything it’s done religiously without any intervention.

  37. We’re venturing into development of new software, and Basecamp is brilliant for giving me a fast and easy engine to work within.

    Cheers for putting this together, please add more Comments here if there are similar blog efforts like this out there – I’ll try to reference them during my presentations about Basecamp. Regards

  38. Ian Needs

    BASECAMP is favored by one of our key clients.

    Although it appears, to be popular with client relationships and communication.

    We experienced problems as a supplier of service, as this client was the only client of ours who used BASECAMP.

    With a significant number of large and small clients of our own, this became almost impossible to service the one client with BASECAMP, as with a majority of client to supplier programs it requires commitment and diligence by all users in order for it to achieve the ultimate customer relationship benefit.

    Our relationship at the time became challenged as our client was implementing their new program with their very large organization. We were asked to use BASECAMP, which we obliged as a supplier, however, as I stated above it was not sustainable by our company as we were using two systems to service this one client and our many other important relationships were suffering.

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