May 25, 2010 0
I realized today that it’s been several years now since that last time I worked on a major project that didn’t use Basecamp. This isn’t just because we’ve come to favor it where I work now. I’ve done a few side jobs in the games industry and found that my collaborators were already using Basecamp. Vendors I work with regularly suggest it, too. Some even look a little downcast when they find out they don’t get to initiate me into its many joys.
Still, there are people out there who still think Gantt charts painstakingly rendered in Microsoft Excel are the only way to do things. Old school project documentation has its place, to be sure, but it can’t touch some of the ways I’ve used Basecamp. A few examples of these uses will explain why I’m a huge fan of 37signals.
- E-mail Papertrail. “I said, and then the vendor said, and then I said…” …and then there’s a gap in the correspondence right where you thought the vendor had agreed a given feature was in scope. Oops. Even with modern e-mail clients, keeping track of all of the conversations that fly around during a project can be nigh impossible. My solution for a while now has been to have these conversations in Basecamp, and if they don’t start there, to move them there as soon as they look important. Having important discussions in a threaded, searchable repository is much better than keeping them in e-mail, especially when you go looking for them two years later.
- Bug Tracker. For some projects, there’s no substitute for an industrial strength bug tracker like Bugzilla or Mantis, but sometimes you don’t need the level of detail provided by Bugzilla. It can even make the QA process more cumbersome. Basecamp can be a nice alternative. My approach is to create a new project specifically for tracking bugs, then create categories corresponding to bug status.
For example, on a recent project where I was tracking issues in a large batch of e-mail campaigns, I created one category for “open” and another for “resolved.” I further divided them by the subject matter of the e-mails, and I ended up with something like this:
- Finance e-mails/open issue
- Finance e-mails/resolved
- Call Center e-mails/open issue
- Call Center e-mails/resolved
I then opened a message thread in the relevant category each time a new bug needed to be addressed. The beauty of Basecamp in this role is that you can change the category of a message thread. So once I had an issue resolved, I just re-categorized the thread to the relevant “resolved” bucket.
- Face Book. The “People” feature in Basecamp does something awesomely simple that you don’t get from e-mail or business cards: it lets you put in your picture. I love this feature, and I wish everyone would use it. On big projects where one company or both might be quickly introducing large teams to each other, you’ll probably remember the people from the other side whose roles dovetail with yours. But it can be hard keeping track of everyone else, and it’s not as if people automatically exchange LinkedIn profiles. I’m good at remembering people, but I’m sure this feature has helped people remember me a few times.
Finally, I love 37signals’ commitment to keeping this product simple. If I need a Gantt chart, a list of resources with billable hours, or some other feature Basecamp lacks, it’s easy enough to supplement what it does with documents produced in other products. Meanwhile, the core app remains fast and easy to use.
Basecamp isn’t just a tool. I’d say it’s more like a secret weapon, but most smart people with big projects know about it by now… and that is all to the good.