Project management, expected from large companies, often goes by the wayside in smaller companies to the tune of ‘Sure, I’ll get around to it’. Basecamp is one of a new breed of hosted, Web-based project-management tools to help you (and your clients) keep track of an internal production process.
Designed around the concepts of clients, people, milestones, to-do lists and files, Basecamp is simple to understand. Set up a new project, either selecting an existing client or creating a new one, and then add milestones (dates for when things need to start or be finished by), and to-do lists. To let people know how things are going, you can add messages (with file attachments) for other people on the project to see.
. keeps you on top of what needs to be done, and when.
What makes it all work is the way in which the developers have cottoned on to the Web’s USP – information sharing. When creating a milestone or to do list, you can assign it to different people – either in your company, in a client’s company, or even to third-party contractors (whom a client sees as part of your company – ideal for small consultancies).
Sharing is also about control. Permissions can be assigned for each project so that clients can add their own notes, tasks or milestones to your projects, or if you’re more hands-off, gaze in awe at how efficient and talented you are. Items marked private are invisible to clients. Adding something to a project includes the option to email notification to project members.
Calendaring is straightforward, too; the next 14 days’ worth of tasks are shown on the main project page – what’s due, when, and from whom – as well as any missed deadlines. For people inside your company, a dashboard page shows an overview of all projects by client, so you know how behind you are. You can even subscribe to a projects calendar from iCal.
The interface is indeed state of the art – none too surprising, as the developers behind it are 37signals, authors of “Defensive Design for the Web” – and from the looks of things close pals with Jeffery “Web standards” Zeldman. Every element is well thought-out, from the error messages, to the helpful helpbox, to the fade-out yellow highlighting – it’s all gorgeous. And more than that, all useable.
There are plenty out these tools out there, but two things set Basecamp apart from its competitors: ease of use and price. If you can blog, you can project-manage. It’s priced on a per-project rather than a per-user basis, and you can do one project for free. Do it, just to see how Web interfaces should look. Really, it’s a no-brainer.