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Taking basecamp to the next level for web design project management


We’ve been using Basecamp since it was first released. One of our goals was to centralize all project management into a single tool. We wanted to avoid a situation were our team would need multiple logins for several tools. Our desire to remain on a single platform has not always been easy. That goal was much harder to achieve than we initially thought. Web design projects are complex and require lots of different elements. Like other modern design firms we also are embracing Agile and Lean methodologies into our process management. That approach suggests adding several new tools like burn down charts. By molding ourselves around the Basecamp features we have actually simplified our process of web design.

By its very nature, Basecamp is a simple tool with far fewer features than its competitor’s products. This limited feature set has sometimes forced us to question our process to avoid having to add another tool or product to the project management process. Another consideration is that we all of our processes are built around the concept of checklists. We use checklists for everything.

Here are the specific ways we used Basecamp to manage our web design projects:

The Company To-Do List or Universal Backlog

This is where every day begins and is just a fancy name for a company to-do list. Using Agile, or just-in-time, philosophies we constructed a to-do list under a project called Backlog and everyone’s daily tasks are updated here. We meet, mostly virtually via Skype, each morning for a few minutes to confirm who will be doing what and if anyone needs help getting their work done. This is similar to the scrum concept except that we are discussing all projects. Most scrums or stand-ups are focused on a single project because the entire development team is only working on that one project. As we’re working on several projects we decided to centralize the to-do list so we can immediately see who’s doing what and who might have bandwidth for new tasks.

The idea here is that we manage our business in bite sized pieces. We don’t do task management any further ahead than one or two days. Although each project has an estimated time line associated with it, we have found that planning more than two weeks ahead is not only very difficult but irresponsible. If you’re designing an application UI there is no way you can tell what you’ll be doing in two weeks time.

View of the company to-do list or 'universal backlog' as we call it

Detailed view of the to-do lists showing individual tasks and deadlines

To-Do Templates

Each step in our web design process is a checklist. It starts with a checklist we call “The Lens”. This pre-sale checklist is designed to filter out clients that may not be a good fit for our business. There are checklists for kick-off meetings, post meeting follow up, etc. If there is a process there is a checklist and each checklist has a to-do template in Basecamp. You can set up to-do templates and then import them into each new project. As we start a new project we import the appropriate to-do list and start to check off the items that have been done e.g. contract signed, deposit received, welcome packet sent to client, etc.). Because we rely on checklists and not on memory we avoid almost all of those “normal accidents” that are inevitable when you’re just following procedure and normal etiquette.

All our checklists are templates. This includes sales and marketing checklists.

Content Management and Site Mapping

One of the hardest things to get right in a web design project is content creation and management. Relative to the design process, content can be a really complex set of steps and interactions. We use Basecamp’s wiki-like Writeboards to add all the draft content and give the client or copywriters access so they can make changes directly.We took the Writeboards to the next level by linking them together and creating site mapped content wikis.

Once we have the content edited to the appropriate level of satisfaction, and this can vary from project to project, we can literally just copy and paste it out of the Writeboards and into the site. By managing the content this way we can avoid having to use another site mapping tool. It’s one less thing to manage.

Each page of the site gets a Writeboard but it's all linked to from a central Writeboard.
Using a series of Wrireboards you can create a CMS-style site map for the content of the site.
Each page, or Writeboard, in the site map refers directly to the content for that page.

Author Richard Banfield

As CEO, Richard leads Fresh Tilled Soil’s strategic vision. He’s a mentor at TechStars and BluePrintHealth, an advisor and lecturer at the Boston Startup School, and serves on the executive committees of TEDxBoston, the AdClub’s Edge Conference, and Boston Regional Entrepreneurship Week.

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