In part I of this series I explained the background of what I am writing about, reasoning for looking at project management planning software over MS Project and introduced the two products, Basecamp and Zoho Projects that I am going to cover. In part II we will look at Basecamp.

Many of you will have heard of Basecamp and even maybe have used it. Basecamp, according to its website has over 500,000 users and you can read loads of accolades. It is no doubt a great product and I am not going to crritique, just run through a highlight of its features.

Basecamp comes in different pricing models, I have only used the free version. You get a lot of functionality in the free version but there are limitations such as you can only manage one project at a time and advanced features such as Chat and Time Tracking are not present. Note the chat is provided by integration of one of their other products called Campfire, which you can also sign up for separately for free. The drawback is it is not integrated with your project.

Here is an overview of the different pricing models and their features (as of 16 Sept, 2006).

Basecamp Pricing

Basecamp Feature and Pricing
As you can see, you can get a version with all the features and the ability to manage 35 projects for $49/Month.

What you will notice when you work with Basecamp is its incredible user interface and broad spectrum of possibilities when working with the product. It is really amazing for a web application what they make possible.

When you sign up for a Basecamp account you need to enter some basic information, including a base url for your project. This becomes part of the URL to your project. Once this is done you can upload a logo for your company, change the coloring scheme and grant access to other team members (users). Finally, you select the link to Create your first project. After giving this a name such as “Project Management Class” you will be ready to start defining the different components of your project.

Messages are the first component we look at. These are where you provide basic project information for your project for other team members, important links to web pages and documents. You have formatting possibilities such as bold and italics easily built in with formatting characters. You can also select from a list of provided categories or create your own, attach a file to the message and finally select project members to send an email to. This is your basic communication method in Basecamp. Below is a simple example of a message:

Basecamp Example Message
To Do Lists provide organization of tasks. They work by allowing you to organize, prioritize and assign items in the to do list to team members. Note that to do lists do not have dates assigned to them. Tasks with assigned completion dates are milestones, which we will look at later. I like this idea, the general idea is we need to get these done at some point, but no exact date. Also, along the lines of the project management pronciple of more than one person can work on an item but only one is responsible you can either assign to Anyone or to a single team member.

Milestones are assigned items with a specific due date. You name the milestone and provide a date. Users of MS Project will recognize this concept with a task of 0 days length and a diamond in the Gantt Chart.

You can also assign the milestone to the team or a specific team member. Also nice is that in the Dashboard view you can see a calendar view with easy overview of when milestones are coming due. Milestones can be view milestones in Apple iCal and Mozilla Calendar. By checking a milestone you mark it as complete. Below is a view of milestones, notice the reminder of an overdue reminder.

Milestone View in Basecamp

Also available in the free version are whiteboards and chat sessions through 37Signal’s other products.

Does this seem simplistic? It does and that is the beauty in the approach. Once you spend a day setting up a project in Basecamp you will come to appreciate the simple and effective way it allows communication, tracking tasks and deadlines. You can share documents, work on versions and even chat with other members. Email reminders simple screens make sure confusion and updating is an easy task.

In summary, Basecamp insures you spend your time working on what is important and provides non-obtrusive support for your project planning needs.