One of the tools that is a big part of our web development process is Basecamp, the project management app. We use it primarily to collaborate with clients throughout the entire web development project. Features like to-dos, milestones, message threads, and file uploads help us keep everything organized. Clients are always able to see exactly where we are at in the overall process.
I’m going to repeat that: Basecamp is the entire basis of our client interactions during web development projects.
It covers everything from setting expectations, communicating status, requesting information, working with partners, and presenting deliverables.
The evolution of our project management approach over time
Prior to using a dedicated project management app, everything was done through email. This was fine back when there were only a few projects going at once. However, as the number and size of projects grew, a platform that helped keep things organized was needed.
We started with one of the original versions of Basecamp and have stuck with them through different updates. A few years ago, Basecamp 2 came out. At the time, I think they just called it “Basecamp.” They actually kept the original version around and called it “Basecamp Classic.” Basecamp 2 had a ton of changes – especially in terms of the UI – over the original. At first it took a bit of getting used to but it turned out to be fairly intuitive. Lift Development clients seemed to catch on quickly as well, which is important as they are the primary reason we subscribe to it.
In late 2015, Basecamp 3 was released. Once again, this was a major upgrade to the Basecamp family of apps. And like the previous release, they kept both Basecamp Classic and Basecamp 2 around for those who don’t like change. More on that in a minute.
I signed Lift up for the latest, greatest version and spent all of 2016 using it for client projects. While Basecamp 3 absolutely has some pretty amazing bells and whistles, it started to fall short when it came to our primary use for the app: client collaboration. Especially as it relates to staying organized and being easy to use and learn for our clients.
The good things about switching to Basecamp 3
Basecamp added a few features in the latest version that were handy such as being able to create “folders” to group uploaded files, built-in campfire chats, private messaging, and more. As always, the interface loads almost instantaneously and it looks great. They also removed the limit to the number of projects per plan.
Overall, it is an incredibly well-built app which I’m sure a lot of teams use with great success.
The things we didn’t love about switching to Basecamp 3
First of all, their subscription model changed completely and we ended up paying more for less features. One of the main features in Basecamp 2 that is super useful is being able to hide specific tasks lists, notes, etc. from clients. In other words, I can personally collaborate with teammates within the same project without clients getting confused by information that they don’t need to worry about. We can just keep it in-house. In Basecamp 3, they included similar features in a higher-level plan that was three times more expensive and re-named it “Clientside.”
We decided to go with a lower-level plan (that was still more expensive than the Basecamp 2 plan) and just try to function without the Clientside features. While the app itself functioned really well and you could tell a ton of thought and planning went into it, the biggest issue was that it felt less-organized.
Whereas you’d think features such as the folders would make it feel more organized, files were getting pushed down into groups and it was more of a pain to find them. Whereas desktop notifications were kind of slick thanks to the Basecamp desktop app, there were a number of times that I missed a client’s important comment in a message thread or a newly uploaded file because a notification never went out altogether. Clients had a hard time finding what they needed. It was difficult to get a clear sense of where a project was at in terms of a complete overview. And there was no calendar feature. What?!
So it was clear that Basecamp 3 was not going to work for what we needed, and I decided to look into the alternatives.
The Basecamp 3 alternatives that we tried
I really, really wanted ActiveCollab to work for our client collaboration process. It’s gorgeous, has a lot of great features, and seems to have a development team that is continually improving it. However, it’s just not there yet. We used it on a few smaller projects and, once again, there were some issues with clients being able to catch on quickly or things getting lost, much like Basecamp 3.
We also considered Asana, Freedcamp, Wrike, and even Trello as alternatives to Basecamp 3, but at the end of the day none of them were ideal for simple collaboration with some of our less-technical clients.
I will say this: Asana could potentially be a fantastic solution for technical teams. And I currently use Trello for all of our in-house planning. I have boards set up for overviews of all current client projects, support items, in-house projects, project lifecycle planning, and marketing/sales brainstorming.
The Basecamp 3 alternative and ultimately our favorite project management app
The best alternative to Basecamp 3 that we could find…the one that best worked for project collaboration with our clients…was…Basecamp 2!
That’s right. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Our clients catch onto it fairly quickly and there’s never been an issue with notifications or noise. I know that they most likely won’t be adding any new features to it, but perhaps sticking with Basecamp 2 for a while longer will give us time to wait around for Basecamp 4 or the next iteration of ActiveCollab. It has all the features we need for our current setup. Plus, we actually save a bit of money each month versus upgrading.
My apologies for the anti-climatic solution in this case, but it’s a good lesson in the sense that the latest and greatest might not always be the “greatest” for our specific needs at that moment.
Have you tried Basecamp 3? If it didn’t work for your company’s needs, which alternatives did you settle on?