In the foothills

Basecamp tentjes

Basecamp tentjes, originally uploaded by Dan Kamminga.

Related to my feelings of being overwhelmed recently, and with an eye toward a lovely new slate of projects that Big Big Design is now starting (while continuing to rock on heartily with the projects already underway), I’ve decided we need a new and better project management tool. My 43 folders and Remember The Milk to-do lists just ain’t gonna be enough to keep 15 or so concurrent projects and sundry other tasks in line.

Back in 2005, at Big Big Design we tried using the web app Basecamp for project management and to share files and lists with clients. I liked the way it was designed, and in theory it should have been perfect. Our clients didn’t seem inclined to adopt it though, and in those early days of the company I stressed about the monthly subscription fees.

But what Basecamp was — and is — great at is keeping track of what remains to be done in a project, who’s responsible for it, when it’s due, and how many things from separate projects are due at the same time. These are exactly the things we need to manage with all these concurrent, overlapping and highly similar but distinct projects.

I still dislike monthly subscription fees, but I abhor missing deadlines and failing my clients. Abhor trumps dislike every time.

So today I started setting up our projects on Basecamp again. The setup process is tedious, but I trust that it will be worth it. The clients don’t need to use this with us if they don’t want to, and I won’t even mention it to some of them; we’ll use the project management and calendar tools internally and interact with them other ways. For our internal use, Basecamp should do a lot to help herd the cats.

All of this is a long way of saying that posting will be light for the remainder of the week, as we work to get everything set up (while still rolling ahead on the rest of the work too). If this all goes well though, my world will be much better organized and happier soon.


10 replies on “In the foothills”

  1. I use to manage my projects. It’s lightweight, fast, and has the GTD niceties of next actions and contexts that I felt RTM was lacking. But really, a hosted copy of MonkeyGTD, a tiddlywiki fork, is more than enough for my needs.

    Have you looked at ActiveCollab as well? It’s very similar. I’m disappointed to say that, although ActiveCollab started out open source, it seems to have been taken under a similar business model to basecamp by EllisLabs, the creators of Expression Engine. I can’t find a link to download it, but there seem to have been a few spinoffs made available on SourceForge.

    At this point, I can see where forking over the $5/month to use BaseCamp has its merits.

  2. Steve, I would jump on $5/month without a pause. But for Basecamp’s multi-user, up-to-15-projects Basic level, it’s $24/month. That positions it like a utility — like an extra phone line — and I can see that many companies would have no problem with it. But since what we do is web design, and conceivably we could create or at least install and run something like this, I feel kind of like a failure having to pay for it.

    That said, I would have to invest time/effort/energy into creating a substitute for Basecamp, and I have no desire to do that.

    For personal GTD, I’ve been reasonable happy with RTM. But I learned recently that I haven’t been keeping my employee up-to-date with basic and important things, like what appointments I have coming up, what projects I’m working on, when things are due, and what I’m expecting him to do. RTM doesn’t do enough to help me with all that. I need something better for work — much better.

    Thanks very, very much for pointing out ActiveCollab. The buy-once pricing appeals to me, and I don’t mind paying if it fills my needs. And if there’s an open source version that has an active user community, so much the better.

    You’ve just given me more work to do (in researching these alternatives), and counterintuitively I must thank you for it. :)

  3. Susan, no special equipment will be required. As your guides, we supply all gear, and we show you how to use it. A full service project-tackling company, that’s us.

    And definitely no push-ups. I hate push-ups; I don’t care how efficient they are. Maybe a few biceps curls and French presses, but no more than that.

  4. Hah! Glad I could be of help. Pointing people to better technology is mostly what has kept me in blogging since I started 6 years ago. One day I’ll figure out how to leverage it all into credibility as a professional consultant and have it made in the shade.

    Until then, It’s one blog post, networking event, and/or project proposal at a time :-)

  5. Upon looking further into ActiveCollab, it’s still free as in Libre, but not Gratis. You can buy the software package for $400 one-time or $200 yearly.

    A much cheaper hosted solution is Wrike. The price for Wrike is $5 per user per month or $50 per user per year.

    If you’re paying $25/month, or $300/yr, for basecamp, both solutions are cheaper. And, if basecamp still has the performance & scalability issues I had with it in 2006, they probably aren’t any worse from a utility and usability standpoint.

    I’m now considering switching to something more powerful for project management, but am still on the fence about how to do it. Part of me says that I could build my own CRM solution and sell hosted accounts, but I’ve watched that business model crash and burn shortly after release. For that reason, I’m hesitant to bother with a hosted solution from anybody else.

    Chances are I’ll hobble along with my current setup until I’m satisfied I’ll get my investment back out of the $400 investment in ActiveCollab.

  6. Steve, this weekend I’m trying out ProjectPier, which is free, self-hosted, and open source. Very like Basecamp feature-wise, except it doesn’t currently have a way to set up templates for repeated projects — we really need that. But I can set up some SQL scripts to add new projects, and I suspect someone will write a plugin/extension to do the same from the admin panel. It also has forms, which Basecamp does not and which we would love for our project management.

    So far, it’s good. I’m planning to make a decision between Basecamp and ProjectPier by this time next week.

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