I see a simple project management system having to do a few things:
- Allows the team(with or without the client) to discuss stuff.
- Tasks to be assigned and tracked
- How these tasks relate to key milestones
Basecamp does all this for me well without additional features that would overwhelm the team.
It has a few key sections for each project that you create:-
- Overview - A feed of the activities within a project(e.g. Someone comments on stuff, completed todo items, announcements, impending milestones, etc. )
- Messages - much like a forum it allows someone to create a message and everyone else can reply to it. Useful for discussions. It sends out an email notification when a new message is created and recipients can just reply via email to add a comment to the message.
- To-Dos – Self-Explanatory. You can create multiple lists and indicate which ones are related to which milestones. Once all the lists related to a particular milestone is emptied, the milestone is considered achieved.
- Milestones – Self-Explanatory.
- Writeboards – A simple wiki board complete with the ability to rollback to a previous state.
- Chat – A Chatroom that can be made available to people outside of basecamp as well. A transcript is auto-saved so you can review it later.
- Files - File storage.
( Click Here to See a tour )
With my team usually extremely descentralised(sometimes not meeting for up to a month or more), Basecamp really provides a simple framework to get things going.
We often start off a project by bouncing lots of emails and once a basic understanding is reached, I start a Basecamp project and rope in the relevant people. From there, the Milestones are mapped and simple todo lists are created.
From there, work starts and as we hit problems, we either have discussions via the message board or if it’s complex enough an issue, we’ll call for an online meeting using the chatroom. Anyone who can’t attend the meeting will be asked to review the transcript. Please note that in very complex issues, it’s still best to meet up physically so that visual models can be presented and stuff. ( I have, however, recently discovered the usefulness of skype’s screen broadcast. Great for presenting powerpoint slides remotely )
The role of the project manager here is to then keep a keen eye on the milestone.
In projects where a client is also given access to the project, he basically has access to the messaging board and can only view the todo lists and milestones(we wouldn’t want a crazy client to start assigning tasks now do we?)
Basically everything really just runs up to the milestones.
What needs to be done to achieve it? Jot down in the task lists and assign it to people and have a deadline(or not).
How to go about a certain task? Discuss either on the online chat or via a messaging system
I like Basecamp because it does these things for me remarkably well by not having all the other things in it. No meeting management tools to get used to, no sales system that I need to learn, no CRM that comes with it. (Note: 37signals has other products that can be integrated but it’s not forced on you like how some opensource tools deploy everything and overwhelm the user).
And because the client can be involved, the updating process is transparent. The need to consistently update a client is minimised because he can go and see it himself.
While Basecamp is not a free service, I think it’s totally worth paying for it. You can check it out for your team too by signing up for a paying account – they have a first 30 day free policy so you can try it out risk free.
If you have questions about or if you need help in implementing Basecamp as a system to use in your team or business, drop me a note and i’d be more than willing to help.
Note: I DO NOT work for 37signals. I just find it really useful and want to spread the love. This blog is managed by setting up a 1-man project on Basecamp and 2 teams creating sub-sites that are in development are also being managed on Basecamp. My company Ridz Technologies is also fully managed on Basecamp.
Do you use Basecamp and have best practice tips to share?