My work life has suddenly transformed from a fairly quiet, ordered environment to one of rapid change, adaptation and transformation. Whilst my own implementation of GTD has allowed me to react appropriately and manage my own work activities, my company’s aged groupware and almost non-exsistent developer resources have been of little help in getting the project up and running. Luckily, through my incessant geekish trawling of various online resources, I was aware of a possible answer to such problems and had a solution to hand.
If, as I did this week, you have a need for a tool to help with either individual or collaborative project or task management but don’t need or want the overhead of MS Project or other leviathan software, I would encourage you have a look at the hosted solution offered by Basecamp.
Imagine a powerful To Do list that is linked to a project team roster and contact manager which has a message board function and a timeline tool not to mention extranet potential thrown in and you’ll be about 70% of the way towards Basecamp. It is is very scaleable, offering everything from a free one-project-only package to a $99 per month corporate extranet solution. As you would expect in an ‘offsite’ web-based solution, there is secure 128-bit SSL data encryption, a SFTP option for file sharing (using your own server) and a nice touch is that the packages are scaled around the number of projects you wish to run, not the number of users. With an eye to the widest possible market, Basecamp works with IE 6 or later on the PC, Firefox on Mac, PC, Linux, and Safari on Mac. The well laid out UI is configurable in terms of colour and can be altered with hex codes to match your project logo, which can also be uploaded and displayed.
Rather than fancy Gantt charts and dependency diagrams that few folks can decypher, the focus of Basecamp is communication – clearly setting out what needs to be done in each area, along with when and who it should be done by. Collaboration is enabled with the provision of the message board function, which includes email notification (though negotiation with corporate sysads might be needed to breech aggressive firewalls) and team members can keep up to date via RSS feeds, saving the need for being permanently logged into the user-defined portal URL. The possibilities for Basecamp are pretty wide open as it can be used for low grade stuff like residents associations, clubs and writer’s groups through to enabling startups and small businesses to run and manage a customer-facing extranet with no IT expertise required.
In the short time I have been using it as a project manager, I have found that it has simplified the staging of a crucial project and allowed our team to envisage what we need to accomplish, who will own the actions and how we’ll go about it. Support for Basecamp is pretty good too, with extensive Help and FAQ pages and a support blog that details user tips, tricks, how-tos and hacks.
In closing, it is maybe worth mentioning that user interface again because it is eminently usable and positively encourages the user to update, communicate and leverage the information housed within. Sounds a little far-fetched? Well, it’s well past 8 o’clock on a Friday evening after a long hard week and I’m still using it and writing about it; not something many Microsoft Project users would be willing, let alone happy to admit, eh?
 A basic knowledge of FTP and access to server space is needed if you wish to exploit the file sharing capability.
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