Basecamp (free; paid subscriptions from $20 per month) is the benchmark of free online project management suites. If your teams need to get off email and get back to work in a collaborative and well-structured environment, send them Basecamp forthwith. The intuitive Web-based system couldn’t be easier to use, and, while any business can get started with a free account ASAP, many will soon thereafter pay the very reasonable price (starting at $20 per month flat fee, regardless of the number of users) to upgrade to a paid account, where Basecamp gives you a few (but crucial) additional features.
While similar online project management services such as Zoho Projects and AceProject> heap on the features—and complexity—Basecamp remains the simplest, fastest, and most scalable service available.
The Basics of Basecamp
For companies that use Basecamp, the project management Web portal acts as the central place where all activity around a project occurs. Each user—and they can be internal to the company or an outside partner—has her own login credentials, profile, and dashboard that shows only information that’s relevant to her. The free version of Basecamp limits organizations to only being able to create one single project, and that’s a pretty strict limitation (if you only have one project, you probably don’t need a project management tool). In my mind, the free account should be seen as a way to test the waters, give users a taste of how Basecamp works, so they can grasp its value and buy into a subscription quickly.
Inside Basecamp, managers or project leads can create a “project” and manage all the work associated with it, from who should have access to the information contained therein to assets uploaded to the project space, such as design comps or guidelines from stakeholders.
The real beauty of Basecamp is the centralization. All discussions, information-dissemination, scheduling, task-assigning, and questions live alongside the project.
To stay abreast of what’s happening with a project, users log into Basecamp and immediately get the full story of its progress. Users do have the option to be alerted by email of activity they choose, such as when comments appear on an open discussion, or when someone newly starts a discussions, or when someone completes a task that you assigned them. These email alerts let team members who aren’t accustomed to using an online management tool stay connected even if they don’t log in.
Online project management software tends to cleave in two: the actual project management (milestones and tasks), and the online communication between team members, freelancers, and vendors (messages and whiteboards). Basecamp doesn’t break this mold. Instead, it differentiates itself by its ease of use and compatibility with external technologies.
Basecamp’s primary view is called the dashboard. Dashboards have become more prevalent across online tools (think social networking websites), and anyone new to PM software will quickly see Basecamp’s dashboard as being similar to a Facebook feed. Across the board, Basecamp feels comfortable in this way. It’s similar to other tools most people already know and use.
The dashboard page gives you information about everything that’s changed in a project and is relevant to you—in other words, you only see information about projects to which you have been invited by the project manager. The restrictions Basecamp provides PMs regarding other users are thorough.
Activity on the dashboard sorts reverse-chronologically by date, so the most recent activity surfaces at the top.
Along the top of the Web interface are tabs for Projects, Calendar, Everything, Progress, Everyone, and Me.
Projects lets you see a tile for each project of which you are a member. Calendar, as its name implies, shows a calendar view of upcoming due dates and milestones. The Everything tab shows a page of additional choices (“browse every discussion,” “review all open to-dos,” “see every single file,” and so forth, which are handy tools when you need to search for something). Progress turns the project’s activities into a visual, vertical timeline, not too unlike Facebook’s timeline, really. Everyone shows a page of user profile photos and a snapshot of their bios, and the Me tab lets you dive into your own profile.
I like having user information centralized, and it shouldn’t be overlooked. Employees like to be able to see faces of the people with whom they collaborate, as well as be able to quickly look up their contact information and time zone.
One special little feature is the Catchup button, which takes you to a page summarizing the day’s activity. It’s a great way to quickly see what you might have missed while you were logged out of Basecamp and busy working.
Basecamp in Practice
Between my testing Basecamp for PCMag and using it in past jobs, I have a lot of experience with the tool. In practice, I’ve found that it was especially useful in communicating with teams who were physically distant. Inside Basecamp, I might find important updates about what had and hadn’t happened with my project overnight while a team in India processed some requests (tasks assigned to them, in Basecamp speak). Or, I might see an updated profile picture of team member in Virginia whom I had never met face-to-face, hiking the Grand Canyon. It may sound silly, but those personal insights open doors to conversations and can help disjointed teams feel closer, which great improves one’s working relationship.
The hardest part about adopting any project management solution may be getting people to use the tool, and Basecamp seems to expect this obstacle in the way it integrates with email. You can opt into getting updates by email for either all projects or only those which you select. When people reply by email to conversations taking place in Basecamp, the messages still go back to the central project location. The way Basecamp integrates with email is rather thoughtful of how people actually do work, rather than how project managers would like them to work.
Paid vs. Free Accounts
The free account delivers plenty of useful functionality for small teams and organizations, but the paid plan adds a few choice features, most notably among them, the ability to manage more projects and some file storage space provided. Also included in paid accounts: SSL data encryption (think added security), daily backups of data, and unlimited users. That last one is worth spelling out. You don’t pay per user with Basecamp, as you do with Podio, Yammer, and some other similar service. You just pay the monthly fee no matter how many users you have. It could add up to being a huge bargain, especially if you have more than five or six users.
The lowest level subscription fee is $20 per month, which lets you manage up to 10 projects and includes 3GB of space to store files. The next level up costs $50 per month, which includes 40 projects and 15GB of space. For $100 per month, you can have 100 projects and 40GB of space. And the highest level gives you the ability to create an unlimited number of projects, plus 100GB file storage space.
Pitch Tent at Basecamp
Basecamp’s free plan is an entry point for teams and small businesses new to project management, and all those who latch onto the Basecamp way quickly will have no qualms about paying $20 or $50 a month for the real deal. Basecamp’s excellent usability, affordable price, and comprehensive features for collaborating on projects make it our Editors’ Choice for project management software.
You’ll need a tool that can handle multiple projects, and you definitely want some file storage space so you can upload assets to your projects, so opt for the paid version. Without those offerings, Basecamp is really just a tool for communication—and it shouldn’t be.
In terms of overall package, usability, and integration with existing technology, Basecamp simply excels. Configuration is about as easy as it gets. If you rely upon email, Basecamp integrates with your existing workflow. Basecamp has more than 3 million users for a reason: You can tailor it to what kind of business you run, and tailor it on the fly. Basecamp is a wonderful hub for projects.
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|Type||Business, Enterprise, Professional|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc