Apr 21, 2013
As a person obsessed with keeping things organized, I spend way too much time in Basecamp. I write articles about it, I talk to project managers, designers and even my wife about it. To this day, I have yet to have a single conversation about Basecamp that does not include someone complaining that the new Basecamp doesn’t have private messages and to-do list templates. I wonder why?
For many of us that started out with the original Basecamp (Classic), the new version of Basecamp was an exciting development. However, it became apparent early on in the beta testing process there where many features that users considered missing. Even during early beta testing, I remember there were repeated freak-out threads from upset users about the lack of templates, time-tracking, private messages, private to-do lists, and other features standard in Basecamp (Classic). We had become accustomed to the way Basecamp worked, and saw nothing but potential problems with integrating our work-flows with the new version of Basecamp.
Basecamp is not Basecamp Classic
From an outsider’s opinion, I believe that when 37Signals started developing the new version of Basecamp, they viewed it as the next iteration of the Basecamp product. However, as they began to redevelop Basecamp, it turned into a totally different tool, resulting in a totally different process for managing your projects; which is — I think — the biggest disconnect that long-time Basecamp Classic users have when they think about Basecamp vs Basecamp Classic.
With the above in mind, lets explore some other key differences that you need grasp in order for Basecamp to click for you:
Project Managers are the focus of Basecamp
In Basecamp Classic, a project manager could go in and assign tasks, but it still required that they then follow-up to ensure that tasks were checked off, or required people to update to-do comments noting that a to-do had been completed.
Basecamp improves on this old model by automatically notifying a project manager via email, or via the “recent activity” list, when tasks have been completed. This allows your team to focus on the work at hand, and less on looping in their project manager, or sitting through “catch up” meetings.
Your project may include multiple Basecamp projects
Yep, you read that right — that new application you are building maybe be considered a single project to you, but in the new Basecamp, you’ll probably want to break it down into multiple projects. The biggest benefit to doing this is that you can provide a more granular level of access to project information to different people and teams, improve search results, cut down information clutter, and reduce communication white-noise for your team.
The Loop-in feature has replaced private messages & to-dos
Let’s face it, from a development standpoint adding private messages and to-dos features to Basecamp is not that difficult. The 37Signals team appears to be consciously keeping this feature out of the application because it doesn’t fit the project management style of the new Basecamp. Instead, they want you to try to:
- Use multiple Basecamp projects – If it makes sense to have your clients in Basecamp, but you have a portion of your project that you don’t want them to see, try using another project to organize communication with the client. Basecamp has a fabulous “Move” feature that lets you move tasks, files, and messages from one project to another.
- Loop in clients when needed – Do you really need your client in your PM system? Sure, it’s convenient at times, but how often have you had a “hands-on” client that when in and started assigning to-dos, or sending messages to everyone on the project when they had a question? I have found that in most cases, using the loop-in feature allowed me to do any client-focused communication without even giving them a Basecamp account.
Like it or not, Basecamp is designed so that all communication in a project is transparent and if you don’t want people who are on the project to see something, it should be handled elsewhere else. Once you accept this as a reality of Basecamp, you will find that it’s not actually that difficult to change your work-flow to adapt to the new Basecamp.
Time tracking, and other add-on features probably won’t be back
With the new version of Basecamp, 37Signals appears to be focusing on providing the best possible experience for the core application and is trying not to add every possible feature. 37Signals has been good about integrating with other services and applications to add advanced functionality that their users need. Remember, Basecamp is not the same as Basecamp Classic, and just because something worked there, does not mean it will work in the new product.
My Basecamp Experience
Phase 1: Replicating the Basecamp Classic experience — When I first moved to the new Basecamp, I spent most of my time trying to replicate our Basecamp Classic workflow over to the new Basecamp. It sucked.
Phase 2: Screaming into a pillow — ’nuff said.
Phase 3: Searching for an alternative to Basecamp — I realized quite quickly that our workflow was not going to work in the new Basecamp as it had in the past. Since I had already freed up Basecamp Classic for our marketing team to use, I wasn’t able to easy jump back to Basecamp Classic, and spent a fair amount of time exploring other project management tools — but kept coming back to Basecamp.
Phase 4: Rebooting the Basecamp experience — Once I decided that Basecamp was the best option for us, I wiped the slate clean. I archived projects and rebuilt each one using the new Basecamp process. I did the best I could to throw out the old Basecamp process, and start with a clean slate — using the product in the way that the 37Signals team designed it, trying to understand why they made the choices they did.
After two or three weeks of real-world use, I found myself understanding why the new Basecamp works the way it does and haven’t looked back.
My advice for those of you who are still clinging onto the Basecamp Classic way of managing your project would be to re-examine the reasons why you’re still using the old product, and to give the new version a try. You might find that what you think of as “missing features” are actually part of the reason why the new version of Basecamp is so much better.