Basecamp: a Kalexiko user’s guide

Here at Kalexiko HQ, we like to think of ourselves as a small, tightly interwoven collective of what could be described as ninja designers, developers and strategists.

 

We are given a mission by our clients that must fulfil, therefore it is crucial that project information flows seamlessly between us like a stream, reaching its eventual destination, the sea; or in our case the client. To ensure that a project runs its course effectively and with collaborative efficiency it is crucial that all of us merge together to work as one fluid motion; graphic design is conducted with the knowledge of the developer’s purpose; developers are proposed with real strategic goals and throughout this process the client’s requirements and intervention must always be anticipated and catered for; ensuring that a project is always client focused and bespoke to their particular needs.

 

Taking this into account coupled with the fact that multiple projects are balanced simultaneously, it means that complete transparency is vital to the success of a project. Of course, being only human makes staying on the ball with all projects all the time difficult sometimes.

At Kalexiko, we don’t really operate in set ‘office’ hours, we think of it more of an ‘open-door’ policy; as long as one’s input is complete and ready for the next phase everyone is pretty much free to work as they want to. Obviously, while our methods may not be as revolutionary as Jason Fried’s notions of the working environment (to watch his TED talk- Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work, click here), we are aware that each of us works accustomed to their own preferred hours; some of us are more productive after emerging during the dawning ambrosial hours, likewise some of us are nocturnal night-owls, not phased by moonlighting throughout the dark of the night, other people are more accustomed to operating to the more traditional 9-5 pattern.

 

To cater for these dynamic working schedules, as well as keeping the client in tune with our progress we implement Basecamp. 37 Signal’s Basecamp software brings everything and everyone together; ensuring that wherever or whenever we are working, we are all working towards the same end goal; keeping us all in time and on the same page.

 

We are always surprised when we attempt to wax lyrical about Basecamp or attempt to introduce a client to it to hear that they aren’t familiar with its benefits. So, to familiarise you guys out there with what has become a lifeline here at Kalexiko, we have prepared this user’s guide to Basecamp; highlighting why we use it and how it could also benefit you.

 

To-do lists

Arguably, the unconditional reason for us using Basecamp is to present tasks through to-do lists, broken down further into their respective to-do items. Using Basecamp you can assign these lists to the necessary team member complete with added due-dates. To add clarity to this you can also add comments, which makes it very useful if you need to add further discussions or task specifics. These lists are made easily presentable through Basecamp’s very neat user interface. If you’re not particularly technologically savvy (but these days who isn’t …) or if you really haven’t got the time to try and learn a whole new organisational program, never fear as Basecamp will not alienate you. Basecamp’s UI makes to-do items easy to manage; by a simple clicking and dragging for prioritisation of tasks,  comments are easy to add; signaling completion, deleting and editing a task are all self explanatory. Quite literally, all of your tasks can be added, arranged and assigned with all the specifics included effortlessly.

 

One thing that we really like, and have taken full advantage of here at Kalexiko, is the fact that you can add your clients to your Basecamp projects. If you require a program that allows you to be immersible with your clients, then Basecamp is really the only option. Basecamp allows you and a client to collaborate within a project; allowing transparency and direct communication  For example, if a client is reviewing a new site that you have created, they can add any bugs and tweaks directly to the to-do list, thus alerting the relevant member of your team instantly. Furthermore, the client will also be able to see when the task has been completed and review it again.

 

Remember I spoke about the need for fluidity within a team? Well, if you’re part of a team similar to ours then you will be able to make great use of Basecamp’s calendar feature. Not only does it act as a standardised calendar, but it also displays every member of your team’s schedule at the same time. So, if you need to complete a task before another member of your team has their way with the next step, you can see when you need to complete your part and when by. If you rely on fluid coordination then Basecamp’s calendar feature will definitely impress you.

 

Messages

With Basecamp you have the option to contact through messaging; in our case this has largely taken over from email when it comes to project management. This is beneficial when it comes to referencing specifics within various discussions. Though you may find that at higher level discussions between you and your client are still more suited to traditional email, you will almost certainly find that your clients will be happy to use Basecamp as a method of sharing messages among members of a recipient list; i.e the team and the client. Again, this is made a very simple process. If someone messages you on a thread you will receive a notification email, to which you can simply reply through email and it will be added to the message thread. You can even include attachments to an email reply and these will be added to your project files.

 

Text Docs

If you are familiar with the older version of Basecamp, then you will remember Writeboards, which have now been replaced by Text Docs. If your team implement sounding boards or brainstorms as an initial means of drafting concepts then you will find these very useful. Text docs allow a team to contribute their flashes of inspiration on any given agenda. While we find that the Basecamp Copy Editor is not exactly robust, it suffices as an internal tool. Working on a text doc will serve you well as each version is saved as an ‘old version’ which allows collaboration within the team, but you don’t lose any of the original documents. You can see who made the edit and if you need to revert to the previous copy you can just go back to it. So if you had a great idea and your teammate changed it, all hope isn’t lost!

 

File Upload

Another useful feature of Basecamp is the ability to upload images and files to to-do items or discussions. If you need to communicate about an idea with a team member or a client using wireframes, visuals, images or supplied text documents then Basecamp makes this very easy. The system is able to handle large files so you can transfer large PSD’s and the like. When the files are attached to messages, they are automatically added to the files section of your Basecamp profile. The only real flaw that we have come across with this feature is when replying to a message with an attachment, the automatic storing of attachments at Basecamp can lead to overloaded, image laden, email signatures; but that’s just a personal quibble though.

 

On the other hand you will find that you never have to hunt through files or dig through old emails to find details about a particular project; they are all right there for everyone in the team to use. Better still, every project has its own ‘area’ in the program where all activity about that particular project takes place. So there’s no intermingling of conversations, documents etc; all of your files are kept neat, tidy and separate.

 

Project Overview

Basecamp has a number of features allowing you to have a rich snapshot of what’s happening on individual projects or across the board on multiple projects. This is particularly beneficial if you are the head of the project, or if you’re just a meticulous planner…If this is you then you will benefit from using the Daily Recap tool, as it provides a universal list of updated tasks, messages, files and more. All of your files, drafts, ideas and discussions are saved securely on Basecamp for future reference. If your team are of the trend of idiosyncratic workers (like us here) then this is useful for catching up and monitoring your teams progress when you can’t always be in the same place at the same time.

 

Time

Time has been a discussion at Basecamp, for dare I say it, a long time. In the new version of Basecamp, the time feature has been omitted, which has given rise to the options of third party applications and plug-ins (which you can view here). Though having experimented with Tick and Toggl, and consequently being billed extortionately for both after an internal integration (which, they happily refunded I must gratefully add) we decided at Kalexiko to opt for Harvest for tackling time to be allotted on each item; which we would easily recommend. Synchronisation between the applications is harmonious and can be described as ‘beautiful’. However, though it is costly it proves invaluable when filing end of month client reports- believe us.

 

But what’s missing?

Though we really can’t recommend Basecamp enough, like all software, you may find that personally it has its flaws. There are a few little nitpicks that we have found with it here at kalexiko, which are

  • Repeating or making templates of to-do items – this was very useful in classic
  • Security concerns just as people wouldn’t buy things online a few years ago, there are some people that will only trust their email
  • It’s not linked to an accounting system so you have to get creative about how you track time and add that to your accounting system. They do offer several API-type plugins that help solve this problem but it’s not a perfect solution
  • Nested lists aren’t available when compiling messages
  • Restricting recursive permissions
  • Adding to-do item to multiple people is not an option
  • The one failing of Basecamp is that if a new message or ‘to do’ is not assigned to anyone then no one will receive notification; potentially a message could go unnoticed.

 

Though these are just subjective of us here, you may find that these ‘flaws’ do not affect you at all.

 

Basecamp and you

It is important to note that Basecamp is more than just a replacement for your email and is truly an all encompassing project tool. It may be worthwhile assigning a member of your team to become a sort of Basecamp administrator; being the expert in its workings and creating training materials for the team and clients. Once you get into the full swing of using Basecamp, this person would be responsible for making sure your company’s Basecamp workflow is working and adjusting it if needed, as well as making sure the items in there are cleaned up, closed, and archived as necessary.

 

We find that our clients don’t want a learning curve and that they have several web apps to help them, manage their day. Therefore they hardly need another complex tool to add to the muddle that they have to deal with each day. A project management system has to be so simple and user-friendly that even the most aggravated and stressed client can effortlessly spot the advantages of using it. Basecamp is that tool. Our clients have been very quick to adapt to it and have made amazing use of it. In our case this is the truest testament to the greatness of Basecamp. Obviously, you’re going to want to see for yourself, and we recommend you do. Basecamp allows your projects to flow smoothly whilst still keeping everything tight and organised, which in a fast moving industry like ours proves invaluable.

 

Are you a Basecamp user? If so let us know your thoughts. If you’re not, then we recommend that you become one and see the benefits for yourself.

SHARE: