Basecamp sucks less than everything else!
I started working as a new Project Manager here at Neo-Pangea (a Digital Creative Boutique) a few months ago. The prime directive posed to me by my fearless leader was; “I don’t want things to stay the same. The company requires new ideas and efficiencies for project organization! I want you to bring that to the table.”.
On the outside I was all like ”Ohhhh yeahhhh… I’m all over that!”, but on the inside I felt as nervous as a piñata at a Mexican birthday party. So naturally I reflected on the things that I had done for my previous employer to streamline our process, swallowed my apprehension and said that I’d need to examine the current process to make an evaluation. He explained that the company had been using Basecamp from 37 Signals as a project management tool. He asked that I evaluate it against other project management tools to see what could be gained from switching to something new. Excellent suggestion, but my background is in non-client based internal banking projects. In that world project management involved composing a Project Plan and Task list using Microsoft Excel, setting up a file share on the company network for assets and documentation and then tracking project correspondence through Outlook and project progress on the project plan shared internally. So for me Basecamp was new and I thought it would be interesting to evaluate it based on my known process and then compare it to other PM software available.
I quickly noted how Basecamp was a slick framework for completing the PM tasks that I was familiar with. The Projects were well organized with neatly self-contained milestone, task, time-line, file and message functionality. So I had to come up with a list of Basecamp Pros and Cons to find a better offering.
- It’s inexpensive!
- All Projects are in one place.
- I can organize projects under each of our clients
- I can get/send Milestone and To-Do (tasks) reminders in my Outlook email and synch Basecamp to my Outlook calendar
- I can get quick and easy Filtering of To-Dos assigned
- I can bring all project stake holders into Basecamp for messaging and asset/documentation collection and all of these items are saved under the project.
- I can control the level of access for all users.
- I can create a write board for project documentation that may require ongoing alteration by other project participants.
- Time lines are easily established and monitored.
- Project and To-Do list templates can be created to facilitate project creation.
- I get a sleek dashboard overview of all recent project updates.
- Basecamp is the most utilized SAAS out there.
- There are multiple Add on applications for mobile devices, Google Apps, Time tracking, project charts & reports and budgeting.
- There are a limited number of projects without upgrading and adding additional monthly costs.
- Any peripheral PM processes like Gantt charts, risk assessments and budgeting were not latent, but required an Add on.
- The Project Milestones and their related To-Dos (tasks) could not be viewed in the traditional water fall spreadsheet format that I felt worked best for me and my project teams in the past for understanding the context of all tasks in the project timeline.
- Not all project stake holders are familiar with Basecamp.
- No formal Bug tracking for testing.
- There isn’t a way to compose smaller subset To-Do lists that assist in reaching micro-milestones.
- Progress tracking for To-Dos and Milestones is minimal so capturing that “Where are we today?” snapshot and assessing risk is cumbersome.
- I absolutely hate the minimal formatting for messages and write boards. It’s lacking multiple Rich text options and is a pain to use. I cannot fully express in words my utter disdain over this.
- It’s an Online tool so there is no Offline capabilities. This is rarely an issue, but I always kind of like having the option to work in an application even if our network is down.
So, now I know what I do and don’t like about Basecamp. Next step, find something better!
At this point the team and I spent some time looking for that something better. We settled on a few contenders; Project Pier, Teamwork PM, and ActiveCollab. Here is an At-a-Glance comparison for your enjoyment:
All were within our budget (cheap) and alleviated some of the Cons that I have noted. We tried all of these options and wanted to settle on one but the Cons for these contenders started mounting.
Project Pier seemed to have a U.I. that would have been too dramatic a change from Basecamp. Another drag was that it didn’t have any kind of a feature for Bug tracking. Additionally, it lacked the rich text and formatting that was also a major headache in Basecamp so we decided that there wasn’t any point in considering it any further.
Then we chose to download the free demo of ActiveCollab to build a project and compare it with Basecamp in hot project action. We quickly realized that for any of the features and functionality we gained with this alternative we lost some others that we had with Basecamp. Basecamp was quick and easy to use out of the gate. Active Collab required some installation and set-up. The basic features of each are comparable, but that wasn’t really a plus for ActiveCollab. It had issue tracking… Yay!, but we needed to Host ActiveCollab which was a bit scary. Although dynamic with it’s Open-source code, ActiveCollab emerged as a the High maintenance girlfriend when compared to Basecamp.
Finally we evaluated TeamworkPM. We started the free Demo and liked it. Its U.I. was similar to Basecamp. It held all the same features and functionality as Basecamp, but still didn’t have the Bug tracking that we really wanted. The issues would have to be tracked in a Notepad feature that was basically the same as Basecamp’s Write board. It did have a pretty cool Risk Register feature for assessing potential Risk in a project but we couldn’t really try that out without fully committing.
Uhhhgggg….Does it sound like I’m whining?
The conclusion is that we’re sticking with Basecamp. The cheap Add-ons and commonality of Basecamp in the client project management community were two of the major features that won our race between the contenders. We could utilize Add-ons to add the functionality that the Basecamp core was lacking.
- Beanstalk – Does quick work of managing subversion.
- Fixx – Provides us with the Bug Tracking we desired.
- Insight – Makes us Mobile with Basecamp.
- PlannerX – Gives me that spreadsheet layout U.I. that I like.
- Gcamp – Merges Gmail with Basecamp.
We determined that most of the shortcomings were manageable considering all the benefits. Recently, we were even able to overcome the issue of subset To-Do lists on a huge project by getting the client to buy-in on a process of To-Do list transition based on Baseball. We managed to keep track of over a hundred production items in one project by graduating the items from an initial Awaiting Assets To-Do list (at bat) through multiple progressive Milestone To-Do lists (bases) until the items were finalized and approved (home plate).
Since I’m still cutting my teeth in the world of digital creative project management there will be fodder for multiple blogs like this one…stay tuned!