Basecamp 2013 Review: Project Management Tools for Small Businesses

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We all know how important project management is. It’s what keeps communication clear, tasks consistent, and just makes the project completion easier. Project management used to be the act of a manager guiding staff through the duration and completion of a project. However, with the rise of technology, and the advent of different modalities (particularly in web development) we’ve now got project management tools that have become fully functioning and interactive tools we use, as a team, to stay on track.

One project management tool that has made a name for itself is 37signals’ Basecamp. My company has been using Basecamp for the past 6 years and I’ve written a great deal of articles revolving around Basecamp and its features. My team and I have been using Basecamp Classic, and I’ve done a comprehensive Basecamp Review on all the features, pros, cons, etc. Many features in Basecamp can be found in Basecamp Classic, and you can find a more detailed review about those things here. Now, however, I’d like to give a full review on this latest version of Basecamp.

Basecamp Review Summary

Overall, I think Basecamp is a pretty good project management tool. It combines everything and anything you need and makes it all easy to find with its intuitive design. After using Basecamp Classic for so long, the latest version of Basecamp is a breath of fresh air.

Everything is categorized by project, and the hierarchy continues from there:

  • To-Dos (tasks assigned to team members)
  • Discussions (all messages related to the project in one place)
  • Dates (important events/milestones related to the project)
  • Text Documents (a feature not seen in Basecamp Classic – a place for notes)
  • Files (all files related to the project)

The Basecamp Dashboard

The look and feel of the dashboard is completely different than what I’ve seen in Basecamp Classic. The page is a little cleaner and it looks nice, but one feature I’d like to see is a quick overview of the latest activity within projects. Another project management tool, Apollo, handles this very well. Upon login, latest activity is displayed along with options to filter by project or team member.  Overall, the Basecamp dashboard is nice, but I think it can become a little too simple for a company that has more than a few ongoing projects.

Basecamp Dashboard

As you can see, Basecamp has made tracking things down fairly simple. You’ve got Projects, Calendar, Everything (which is literally a gateway to all to-dos, discussions, files, etc.), Progress (who worked on what for a specific day), Everyone (gateway to everyone’s activity), Me (where you can find your own to-dos, etc.).

Basecamp Menu

Basecamp Projects

Projects are the foundation of all that happens in Basecamp. Each project has its own discussions, files, text documents, to-do lists, etc. It’s organized excellently, and everything I need is easy to find.

Basecamp Catch-UpWithin projects, there is also an option to “catch up.” Say you’re out of work for a day or so, simply click this button and you can see what went on within a particular project.

Overall, I think the way Basecamp organizes projects is pretty efficient and effective. It’s easy to add new ones, easy to find current ones, and easy to mark them as inactive if need be.

Time-Tracking as an Add-On?

One major feature lacking is the ability to track time. While this IS available as an add-on, I definitely think it should be one of the very first standard features offered. When you’re managing projects, time is a big part of it, and little is more important than time spent by your team members on specific tasks and projects. A new project management tool, Apollo, completely outshines Basecamp in regards to time tracking. Not only can you track time, but you can also add time for different team members, classify it (non-billable, billable, billed), and set specific categories.

Are Text Documents the New Writeboard?

Basecamp Text DocumentsMy team and I are avid users of the writeboard in Basecamp Classic. It’s where we typically place client information that we need to access often. However, I noticed a lack of writeboards in Basecamp. What I did notice was a new feature called Text Documents.

Text Documents look to be another editable document within a project; similar to the purpose the writeboards serve. I’m not a fan of these Text Documents, and I much prefer the old-fashioned writeboard (again, this is another area where Apollo outshines Basecamp).

Managing Projects, Tasks, and Time

Having tool like Basecamp is great to manage team members, and it’s even better to manage your own time, priorities, etc. If you’re like me, I like to be able to have a place where I can see everything that I’M responsible for. I like to easily see what needs to get done today, what needs my attention, and what time I’ve put in.

Basecamp does well with this, but I definitely think it could be improved – especially the organization of specific items. Here’s what you get when you see your activity in Basecamp:

  • A list of your latest activity.
  • A list of open to-dos.
  • A list of completed to-dos.
  • A list of files you’ve shared.

I’m not a fan of these lists – I’d like to see it condensed into what I need to do, what I’ve done, and time I’ve spent. With Apollo, I can click “My Tasks” and view all these things on different tabs (and even filter by date).

The Basecamp Review Verdict

I’ve been a fan of 37signals and Basecamp for a long time, and I’m always looking forward to new features. However, with Basecamp, I found that there were a few simple (but very significant) features missing. Basecamp has been a big player in the industry of project management tools for quite some time, but I think there are other newer players that are willing and able to take over a good part of the market in the foreseeable future.

Zach Katkin - Entrepreneur, Web Developer, Designer and Writer - is the co-founder of Florida Web Design Company Atilus. In business for nearly a decade, Atilus has more than 600 clients worldwide.