Digital project management toolkit series: Basecamp

by Jayne Hetherington

When we begin a project here at Fresh Tilled Soil, we fire up an arsenal of digital tools to help us keep the trains running on time. Although our project management process is flexible enough to adapt to the communication style of each of our partners, we’ve landed on a core suite of applications that has streamlined our daily work flow and maximized efficiencies. This is the second in a series of posts outlining the Digital Project Management Toolkit.

What it is:

Basecamp is a ‘by design’ digital project management tool (i.e. made specifically for PM’s) that organizes files, discussions, to-do lists, and schedules – streamlining team collaboration. Basecamp launched in 2004 and quickly became the go-to digital PM tool. We currently use Basecamp 2 here at Fresh, but we’re in the process of moving projects to Basecamp 3 (which launched last year).

Internal or external communication?

Both. Basecamp allows for client access as well as an internal-only mode (individual lists and discussions are marked in red as ‘the client can’t see this’). Our Basecamp discussions are fully exposed to the client, even if the discussions are internally-focused. Making our process transparent and welcoming client feedback as we work through strategy, design, and development conversations often requires additional explanation, but it’s almost always to our own benefit. Forcing ourselves to explain our reasoning behind a particular decision is a necessary step to getting everyone on the same page. I can see how some teams may want to make certain discussions private to the internal team only, but that’s when we turn to Slack.

How we use it:

We think of Basecamp as a client-facing tool for discussions – our qualitative journal, a running record of decisions made. The discussions function is really the Basecamp bread and butter for us.

We use the milestones and to-do lists as intended – pretty straightforward use case here. Making the to-do lists visible to the client allows them to passively view progress between formal check-ins. Although I have to admit to keeping my own PM-focused to-do’s in Evernote (also a future series topic), the major milestones bubble up to Basecamp. In short, a curated, higher-level list of to-do items are accounted for in Basecamp, and the more granular lists are kept by team members in whichever tool they prefer (most of the Fresh team actually uses pen and paper).

PM toolkit basecamp

Basecamp also allows for file upload/storage. I’d found the biggest Basecamp shortfall to be that you couldn’t organize files into folders (like in Drive or Dropbox). But, Basecamp 3 allows for folder organization(!!!!!) Although I wouldn’t replace Dropbox or Drive with Basecamp for file sharing overall (customization options, doc creation, and storage capacity just aren’t there), being able to organize key project files within Basecamp is a critical upgrade. As an example, when we post design options, it’s so helpful to be able to group revisions by date in folders, rather than have all of the individual files lumped together. Plus it feels so much tidier!

Why we use it:

There really is no better tool that combines discussions, to-do lists, and schedules in one application. The mobile experience is decent in Basecamp 2 (easy view/respond functionality, as well as the option to respond by email), and I’m excited to see what B3 holds.

***I should note – although we use Basecamp as a mainly client-facing tool, and Slack for internal communication, the combination may work in differing percentages for other organizations. It really depends on your workflow – as a team that iterates constantly internally and depends on client feedback at set checkpoints, this mix works well for us.

About Jayne Hetherington

Jayne started her career as an adjunct professor teaching mass media, digital studies, and media theory classes while also working as a project manager at...