Upgrading to (New) Basecamp: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Basecamp cartoon

We're always aiming to do things more efficiently here at Custom Fit Online. One such area that we have decided to improve is how projects are overseen and managed. What we used to use for project management, the "Group Hub" as we like to call it, ran on the fantastic service Basecamp (now Basecamp Classic): everything that we did among our team, as well with our clients, went through the Group Hub. Last weekend, however, we made the transition from Basecamp Classic to the newer, shinier Basecamp.

We have been using Basecamp since day one. Even when the newer iteration of Basecamp was unveiled, and then-Basecamp became "Basecamp Classic," we stubbornly stuck with it because it worked very well for our needs. But what is progress without an evaluation? After much exploration and discussion, we decided to officially make the jump.

The Good and Bad of Updating Basecamp

What follows here are some thoughts and notes about Basecamp -- the pros and cons, the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful -- and how it has (and will) affect our workflow.

The Great Visual Overhaul

When first coming to Basecamp, the most substantial, most obvious change is the interface: it's bigger and brighter, more colourful and approachable. From a strictly visual point of view, it is a beautiful system and a much more pleasing product than its predecessor.

Basecamp stacking

Sections within project stack, giving context to your location.

Employed is a system based on cards and sheets, where "opening up" a section within project will stack it. There are a lot of contextual cues like this throughout, and it really makes navigating around a joy.

Milestones Begone, the To-Dos Have Arrived

Milestones, by definition, are significant events or changes. I am sure the original intent in Basecamp Classic was to denote major points in the course of a project -- due dates, feedback sessions, etcetera -- but we used them more for tasks. Milestones were the "Hey, do this" items for us, while to-dos were used as "When you do the thing, do these things too."

When porting over projects from Basecamp Classic, our milestones (old and new) were converted to events. Events that cannot have people assigned to them. Roy had to go through and convert each milestone into a to-do manually and assign it to the proper person… which is a nightmare!

Basecamp To-Dos

Instead of milestones, we now use to-dos and lists to organize our tasks in projects.

Despite this initial hurdle, using to-dos instead of milestones for tasks actually makes more sense: writing content for an email newsletter is something I do, not something I achieve. (Well, if I am feeling particularly depressed, writing content is an achievement, but that's not the point.)

You can sort through your assigned to-dos by today, tomorrow, this week, next week, and all-time from your Me page. Great for efficiency and planning of your own tasks, not so much for finding out about others. We'll come back to this is a minute.

The Butchering of the Calendar

In Basecamp Classic, the calendar was the single most important (and useful) portion of the whole system. It is where we started and ended our day, where we saw the whole picture and the small details. It is where we gave each other tasks, organized our jobs, and managed our timelines.

The calendar is where it all went down for us. But now, it plays such a minimal part. I asked my coworkers what they thought, in general, about the new Basecamp, and this removal of calendar features is what everyone kept coming back to. Wendy noted, "I notice that the to-dos don't show who is assigned to the task in the calendar and for some reason this has been a weirdly difficult transition for me." Roy, who focused on the big picture, said:

The lack of a calendar where I can toggle on/off different people to have a quick snapshot of what they are doing over a month is a big issue for me. I find it much harder as a project manager to see how all of the today's work together. 

I feel the same way. While to-dos show up in the calendar when they are assigned a due date, it is difficult to scan who is doing what. My own individual to-dos are available through what's called the Me page, where I can filter by to-dos, discussions, and recent activity. But what if I want to know what Robert is up to this week? There is no easy way to find this information and is a big step backwards from Basecamp Classic.

And Thus was said, 'Let There Be Progress'

A wonderful addition to Basecamp is the Progress page. A lot can happen in a day, and the Progress area allows for everyone to catch up on all projects. As I previously wrote, seeing the big picture of what is to come is now gone, but seeing what has happened is now much easier to grasp. It is very beneficial to be able to capture what has gone by.

Long Live the Client

Basecamp projects

Our projects are client-oriented.

While milestones have shifted to to-dos, projects haven't changed at all… even though Basecamp wants us to. We have always used "projects" as "clients," and that has not changed during our migration. If we were starting from scratch, it is possible we would go the project-oriented route, where projects would be set up as…

  • Alex's Whistler Hotel: Responsive Redesign
  • Alex's Whistler Hotel: Monthly Web Marketing
  • Alex's Whistler Hotel: SEO Audit

Instead, our projects are client-based, so continuing the example above, "responsive redesign," "monthly web marketing," and "SEO audit" would all be contained in the Alex's Whistler Hotel umbrella. This works well for us, but who knows? Maybe one day we'll make yet another transition.

Change is good… right?

We might be a bit late to the (new) Basecamp party, but I'm glad we did make the switch. 37signals seems to be a company that is on the ball, and I am sure we can continue to see great things come from them and their products. The Basecamp Help section is also an awesome tool, as it offers answers and advice on a huge number of topics.

Sure, there is are a few things that need some work, but there is also so much to love. Upgrading has proven tricky: it seems from Basecamp Classic to Basecamp there are many of the same features, but it's the concept behind these features that changes. This makes transitioning difficult; learning where to find a specific link or file is easy to figure out -- once you find, you got it -- but switching mindset and changing your workflow is a harder task to do.

If nothing more, switching to Basecamp is giving us an opportunity to put our process under the microscope. And for that, we're happy.

What about you?

Upgrading to (New) Basecamp: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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All in all, Basecamp is a fabulous service and a joy to use. There are many little touches that add a lot of value such as adding a file directly from Google Docs. If you haven't yet, go ahead and give Basecamp a test drive. At the very least use this chance as to inspect your own methodologies and reflect on how you can be better.

Do you use -- or have you ever -- Basecamp? What are your thoughts? Do you enjoy it? Was making the switch difficult for you? Let us know in the comments below, or join us on Twitter and Facebook.

Ben Groulx
Aug 08, 2014
From the Custom Fit Online team

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