We love Basecamp. Just wanted to get that out of the way. For over five years, we’ve watched Basecamp evolve from a very basic project management tool with messages, basic to-do lists and file uploads, to a wonderful collaboration system with Writeboards, comments at a to-do level, advanced notification and permission controls and more. Our projects and clients continue to benefit from its superior features and usability.
Because we like Basecamp so much, we thought we’d point out a few features that less-expensive competitor, activeCollab offers which would make Basecamp even better.
Progress tracking and due dates for tasks
Basecamp of course has integrated milestones, however tasks can easily go unfinished and unnoticed. Sure, to-dos can be associated with a milestone, but unless the parent milestone expires, team members may be unaware of individual task dates until it’s too late. activeCollab supports due dates for checklists and tickets and as such, alarm bells can ring if important sub tasks aren’t met. Many companies have tried to get around this in Basecamp by creating more milestones than to-dos, however this gets unwieldy and results in a very long list of milestones that cannot be categorized or grouped the way to-dos can. People have been pleading on Basecamp forums for to-do due dates for a long time. Hopefully someday soon they’ll get their wish.
On top of this, activeCollab has a nice progress bar which shows the number of tasks completed out of all existing tasks and a percentage calculation. Another good way to sound the alarm if tasks aren’t being checked off as they should be.
This relatively simple feature can be powerfully useful. It gives each user the power to select, on an ongoing basis, any item(s) that they want to keep an eye on. For instance, tasks may be grouped into various lists, but on a given day say, five of them are being focused on. Rather than breaking up carefully constructed lists, an individual user can star those items that need to be taken care of or monitored without affecting what the rest of the users see. This puts more power in the hands of the individual to use the system as they see fit.
Updated items since last visit
Here’s another simple feature that is more powerful than it may seem at first glance. Project managers love quick summaries of project activity since they’ve been gone. The Basecamp Dashboard does indeed show all latest activity, but seeing what’s new since you last looked can immediately bring you back up to speed. Did something happen related to one of your starred items? You can quickly be aware.
Similar to Facebook status updates or tweets, these can help teams that are under tight deadlines, but aren’t using a chat tool like Campfire to quickly see who’s working on what. This helps a project manager know if reminders should be sent out or if a person should be interrupted. Sometimes it takes a while to get into the “zone” and any feature that helps team members remain there is valuable. 37 Signal’s internal collaboration tool, Backpack actually has this feature so it should not be difficult for Basecamp to implement.
Another example of a feature that both activeCollab and Backpack offer is the creation of individual pages. The ability to highlight certain information in a permanent spot that doesn’t get pushed down as more content is added (such as is the case with Messages), is of high value to a team. A particular collection of files, a summary of key business goals, a list of URLs to competitive sites, are just some examples of content that deserves a permanent home. Backpack’s pages are excellent in that they allow drag and drop modules of text, images, files, and to-do lists. Even if pages for Basecamp only included text and file attachments, it would be a great start.
Sometimes viewing a calendar in month format just helps communicate the bigger picture better. A simple addition which again, is already in Backpack.
Ability to resize Message/comment edit windows
In activeCollab you can grab the corners of a text box you’re working in and drag it to whatever height you want. When you’re typing a message and it becomes larger than you anticipated, it’s great to have the extra breathing room. Basecamp’s messages auto-expand only once when a certain content amount is reached, but the customizability of dragging to fit is truly a step up.
To reiterate, Basecamp is a fantastic tool, and it’s only out of love that we post these suggestions which we feel would take it to yet another level. There are plenty of other great ideas circulating in the forums and we encourage you to add your own two cents.
Social Media, Web Development, Web Project Management