Congratulations to 37 Signals for completing nerfing one of the industries beloved tools Basecamp. I guess there was a real itch to do something over at 37 Signals and attention drew in on the project management tool of choice for many.
I’ve used Basecamp for many years as a freelancer, and with companies I have worked for to great effect. Certain key features made it an excellent collaboration tool for managing projects, particularly the calendar and messaging tools.
This morning we created a new account for Basecamp Projects (as it is known after July 30th), which no longer setsup a Basecamp:Classic, what we’ve known to love over the years. Here are my gripes with it.
What’s to like?
Sure, visually there is something slightly softer and you can’t really mess it up with terrible colour combinations anymore. The main dashboard screen (although you wont see that label anywhere) is a little tidier, with a good overview of the project and the heavy tab buttons for areas of the app are gone now replaced with softer text links.
The calendar interface is pleasing with it’s scrolling up and down as you click (LEFT AND RIGHT!!??) through the date ranges.
The timeline for dates is a nice idea but completely unusable on the basis of that you simply do not observe a project performance in a linear view like this.
What’s not to like?
Bye bye Dashboard
Probably the most important aspect of any management application is an overview that gives you the top level stuff you want to see straight away in visuals that are easily digested, something Basecamp:Classic did very well greeting you on each log in with a calendar overview of the coming week with visual cues on what today is and what is happening on the project.
Well you can forget all that, instead you now have a long page with sections relating to each of the app sections which frankly, doesn’t have enough visual markers on it to tell me whether they need my immediate attention or not.
Let’s start with the most critical peev, projects can no longer have milestones. It doesn’t matter whether you run your projects on one methodology or another there is still a big difference between an event and a milestone. Milestone’s are what define the progress and ultimate success of the project, events could be anything, it may be a catch up call, a deadline when something has to have been agreed by but not necessarily something that defines the outcome of the project. The inability to set milestones is in my book a catastrophe.
Company & People Management
This ties in with the removal of project templates, something I wont dwell on, but you cannot create a new company/client now without having 1 contact in the company. When you are setting up a project this is information that may not have been finalised or it may be that you don’t want to introduce the client to Basecamp until you have completed the initial project setup. We all want to show that we’re completely on top of things and are ahead of schedule and it really is not uncommon for project managers to produce the initial calendar entries and tasks prior to welcoming the client onto the app. Well now you can’t. Instantly I had to create a really poor work around in adding myself to the client company. The only reason I did this was to create a To-Do list that could be assigned to my client where I found out about our next problem.
Can’t assign Companies on To-Do’s
You can no longer assign a Company to a To-Do list or item in Basecamp. This was an efficient feature which allowed items to never be unassigned and give the responsibility to task management to a group rather than an individual. Now we will have to assign all tasks to people and then those deligates will need to divvy out the work accordingly. You’ve lost the ability to bucket assignments and have people go in and pick them out the pile. I envisage what will happen now is people will look at the list of tasks and not know if somebody is working on an item and either leave it or waste time tracking that person down to find if they can take the task off them.
Discussions, not messages, everything out in the open
One of the biggest shockers is the removal of private messaging whereby you can create an internal discussion which was not visible to your client. This device which 37Signals must have seen as insignificant was the one bridge between the tool being great at managing client communication and internal on projects from a central location. What will happen now? People will revert to emailing one-to-one meaning conversations being held outside of the project visibility and information not being available to the project group to be able to quickly resolve issues and ensure everyone is up to date on goings on.
What a complete load of toss. Not only is this nasty designed page with its tacky road signs found in the main navigation area it is utterly useless. The purpose is presumably for a project manager or MD to be able to look at everything that is happening across all projects in one place. What would have infact been far better is for Basecamp to have got some reporting tools integrated! I can’t count the amount of times I have emailed, tweeted and posted about the dire need for a simple burn down chart to be added to the Timesheet, which neatly brings me onto my next bugbear.
You read that right, the latest release of Basecamp has done away with timings for items on To-Do lists and why not? After all, we don’t run projects on dates and times do we? This has got to be the biggest crime for the 37Signals team. Instead of providing much richer deeper project management tools as most users were clammering for, namely more depth on the timesheet tools, they have chosen to remove the functionality entirely. At least before we were able to see the amount of work an individual had done on a project, but what we really wanted was this to be extended so that we could see time spent on a specific To-Do item and ideally add in the ability to add estimates to the items.
My last rant is about the navigation systems which now merge project specific links with global application links. As previously, there is a toolbar at the top which allows you to navigate through different associated accounts, and your paid for apps such as Basecamp, Basecamp:Classic, Highrise and Campfire. Replacing the tabs is a text based menu structure so poorly thought out that I am lost for words. Once you have clicked on a project from the index the entire primary nav is greyed out. The project is now in a white content area but drastically lacking in primary actions. There is no NEW activity, for example, it isn’t clear how you get to just the discussions, calendar or files as with Basecamp:Classic. This core activity led navigation is now completely obfuscated making the simple tasks of looking at the latest messages or getting an overview of the project status via the calendar near impossible to do with speed.
I am at a loss as to what to recommend for a project management tool now. I feel that Basecamp has a nice interface but is essentially an alternative to using your email and a list service like rememberthemilk.com or worse, something in your mail client.