The Brand Spanking New Basecamp

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Have you heard? 37Signals just launched a redesign of the very popular tool Basecamp! Along with a fresh new interface, they’ve released a set of features that adds to its ease of use. I attended one of Basecamp’s webinars and thought I’d share my thoughts on its new offerings. Check it out:

New Calendar. The UI is very slick. You can drag and drop events, quickly jump from month to month, and have calendars specific to project. Users assigned to a project’s calendar can subscribe to events via RSS so any updates will be reflected in their local calendars. You can’t submit events from your local calendar, but Basecamp does plan to open up their API so this feature can be developed later on.

Discussions. This is very useful for Project Managers. Discussions can be had around everything from events, to-dos, a file or just a plain old discussion thread. All discussions are centralized, so you can view the comments in one place in regard to a particular topic or file. Really handy if you’re trying to revisit something from the past, like feedback. It would be nice if there was a voting system similar to Reddit that put emphasis on popular or important comments. That way, if the discussion is really long, I can easily scan through the details and pick up on the high priority comments that were made.

Loop In. If you have a stakeholder involved in a project and need their feedback on a particular file or discussion, you can “loop” them into discussions without giving them full access to the project. That way the user can add their comments but not see sensitive material.

Daily Progress. This is a feature that is very similar to the new Facebook Timeline, but applied across projects. It gives you a bird’s eye view of all the activities (i.e. files uploaded, discussions, tasks completed) that happened across the projects you’re assigned to. Really cool if you’re new to a project or need to catch-up. They even have a “Catch Up” tab that does the same thing: gives you a summary of all the activities within a project by day. To take this further, users are sent a Daily Recap email that encapsulates all that has happened that day. I have a gripe with this though… a daily email seems like too much. Will teams (other than PMs) pay attention to this email? This is where a PM should really be involved with what information is sent to their teammates. It would be nice to create a custom daily email so that it fits the needs of each user and is relevant.

Drag and Drop. This can literally be done for everything, from uploading files to changing priority of tasks. It removes 2-3 clicks out of tasks that can be time consuming.

Live Updates. As users are updating, uploading, and commenting on a project other users will see these updates as they are happening. Very Twitteresque.

People pages. Just like the Daily Progress, you get the skinny on all the activity of one person. I could see this bordering on micro-managing, but it’ll be useful to see how a person is progressing on a project and get an idea on what they are currently working on.

What’s gone?

Timetracking. The sentiment on Twitter and during the webinar was that this feature will be greatly missed. But I see this as a good thing. While Basecamp calls itself a “Project Management” tool, it isn’t. It’s only 1/5 of project management: Communication. It has been and always will be really awesome with collaboration. So while tracking time is essential, it’s a different function entirely. Along with tracking time, Project Managers need the ability to create reports on time entries, forecast resources and timelines and analyze historical data, which Basecamp just doesn’t do. Any why should they? There are other products on the market that provide these features and then some. So while yes, tracking time is important – you shouldn’t be using Basecamp for it. I’m glad that 37Signals is focusing on what they’re really good at: Collaboration.

 

So that’s my two cents – I’d love to hear your thoughts on the new Basecamp. If you want to check it out for yourself, sign up for the next class: http://basecamp.com/classes or read all about it here: http://basecamp.com/

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Author: Sheena Rajan

I'm just a tiny project manager in the BIG world of business; with a concentration in the digital space. I invite you to connect with me on Twitter, Google+ and/or LinkedIn and check out my resume and portfolio.

16 Comments

  1. On the topic of the deprecated time tracking…. I was always partial to using Freshbooks for time tracking anyway. Doesn’t seem like a feature that makes sense in Basecamp, really.

    • Thanks for your comment! I completely agree. All the functions that go along with time tracking, like resource allocation, scheduling, etc. require a separate, robust system. Besides, those are different tasks that are the prime responsibility of Project Manager. Those tasks wouldn’t make sense in a tool centered around team interaction. No need to muddy up a tool with extra functionality. I’m all for dropping it within Basecamp.

  2. Hey Sheena,
    Thanks for this great writeup! I’ve been super excited about the new Basecamp. I haven’t actually seen it yet, but your report is worrisome for me. I have to disagree about the time-tracking, I use it quite a bit. As a single-person business with occasional subcontractors I use Basecamp for everything to do with a project, including tracking my time. I’m not a full-time PM, so I don’t want to have to have multiple services tracking the same projects.

    Therefore if the new Basecamp doesn’t have, or implement the time-tracking I’m going to have to go somewhere else. It was actually one of the features I used BC for the most. And it’s a huge bummer, because for the most part I love Basecamp.

    Thanks!

    • Hi Brad,

      Thanks for your comment! I can understand why this would be essential for you and your business. Do you use it for invoicing? As a previous commenter mentioned, FreshBooks is a great tool for tracking time and invoicing. Also, I believe there are time tracking plugins that fully integrate with Basecamp. I hope this helps! Best of luck to you!

  3. Ditto Brad. This is a big problem for me too. Basecamp was all about keeping it simple. Having to plugin to freshbooks or other is not goin to work for me.

  4. Hey Sheena,
    I use my time-tracked in BC for Invoicing for some clients that I bill hourly. For my per-project clients I just like to be able to easily see how much time I’ve spent on something to know where I’m at on a project.

    Taking the webinar you attended on Thursday, so I’m sure I’ll see a lot of coolness! Thanks for the Freshbooks tip – maybe it’s the thing I’ll have to use to close the gap.

  5. So what are you recommending for the other 4/5th?

  6. If you’d like a tool for managing your time and projects, you can use this web-application inspired by David Allen’s GTD:

    http://www.Gtdagenda.com

    You can use it to manage and prioritize your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote and Google Calendar, and also comes with mobile version, and Android and iPhone apps.

  7. Love to hear more of your thoughts about other items that are gone, namely:

    PRIVATE — this is a pretty big one to evaporate, especially if you’re a group that uses it a lot. Is this just a concession to it being a bad solution and people were using email anyway?

    COMPANIES — pretty much gone in any kind of meaningful organizational way (projects used to be grouped by company). Now projects are just all dumped into one big bin and it’s up to you to figure out some organizational naming scheme?

    CAMPFIRE — wasn’t using this either, but interesting to see 37S obliterate one of their own product integrations.

    MILESTONES — okay, now there are EVENTS, but there’s no check off and no assignability for it. To-Dos with a due date don’t show up on the Calendar (like before).

    What’s interesting is how this all represents a pretty radical evolution of how 37S sees workflow and collaborative online communication. It’s gotten simpler in a lot of ways. Will that be better?

    • Hi Tom,

      I appreciate your comment! I wish I could have sat in on the UX strategy sessions with 37Signals to see their reasons for dropping a lot of features. But based on the types of changes they’ve made it seems like 37Signals is shifting their overall strategy: to be all encompassing collaboration tool ONLY. Rather than having the extra functionality that could prohibit collaboration – they just dump it all together. Things like Private messages and to-do lists prohibit collaboration, so that’s probably why it was dropped. I couldn’t tell you why the other items were axed, but I’m assuming is has to be about simplicity, as you mentioned. This definitely helps with speed. I’ve read that this was one of their biggest goals. Simplifying the functionality will only help with the speed performance of the application.

  8. New version of basecamp is hard to navigate and use as compared to the last version. Time tracking is important feature for most of the companies. I would like to recommend Proofhub. Proofhub is quite simple, user friendly and the most important thing is that it provides features like time tracking and milestones and many unique features like hidden mode, instant chat and many more.

  9. As a long-time Basecamp user (since 2004), I am particularly disappointed with 37Signals recent “upgrade”.
    While the product may now better suit the internal project management needs of 37Signals (which from the lack of any other example videos on their website, I guess is the case), this does NOT seem to me to be a sound basis for such a massive change in core features and functionality.

    Changes appear to be justified only by reference to internal 37Signals processes, making this new development even more of a vanity project that the previous one. There seems to exist a complete lack of understanding of the needs of users beyond the ‘software development’ or ‘web development’ industries.

    The focus appears to have been on meeting their own internal needs, rather than those of the many people (like me) who struggle with managing projects that DON’T involve software development. In common with most other web-based project management systems, there seems to be a lazy lack of insight into the needs of those NOT working in the same industry as the developers! In other fields, such a ‘design for yourself’ ethos is rightly considered to be bad design.

    I will have to stick with “Classic” Basecamp for now, until I can find something better. However, with the evermore introspective and self-centred “retreat to the ‘neat’” culture being demonstrated by software developers, this may be some considerable time.

    A.

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