One indispensable piece of software that I use both personally as well as in my day job is a project/time management software package called Basecamp. First, a quote from 37 Signals, the company that made Basecamp:
In my own business, Basecamp functions as my to-do list. For any major project, I setup a to-do list of things I need to get done:
Making a List
Typically at the beginning of a project I’ll just throw in everything I can think of and not worry about order or assigning due dates. At this point I just want to get everything out of my head and onto the list so I don’t forget anything.
After I’ve got everything I can think of in the list, I’ll quickly arrange the list in the order I think I need to tackle it. For appropriate tasks, you can assign a due date so that it’s easier to remember if something needs to get done by or on a certain day.
For Lemon Productions projects I don’t worry too much about time tracking in Basecamp — I track that in FreshBooks (watch for another separate post) — but at my day job we use time tracking to make sure projects stay on budget. It works great and takes only a few minutes at the end of the day to enter the time for the projects you were working on. At a glance, my boss can easily determine where we are in a project relative to where we should be and plan for any extra time needed from a client. (Note: Time tracking isn’t available on the free plan or the basic plan, which is $24/month. You need to be using at least the Plus plan at $49/month or higher to get time tracking enabled.)
Communication done inside Basecamp can be handled through email or directly inside the web application. This makes for an easy way for everybody (or only specific people) to keep up on what’s being discussed without having to have long, hard to read forwarded/reply-to-all style email conversations. A lifesaver for some organizations to be sure.
Templates are great way to build a default list or project that you can reuse for different projects, over and over. If you always have the same 10 tasks when, for example, designing and writing your email newsletter every month, then you could create a project template that would automatically have every to-do item setup for you. All you have to do is actually write the newsletter!
Other things that are included that we don’t use a lot yet (but probably should) are things like:
- Milestones. Milestones are due dates for whole projects.
- Writeboards. Writeboards allow you to create a collaborative document (like a Word document) which everyone can edit and add/remove content from. It’s a lot like using Google Docs which is where I usually would do this kind of work. But it can be handy to have it all in one place in Basecamp.
- Campfire is an internal chat/instant messaging utility. It’s not all that different from something like Windows Messenger, Google Chat or iChat except that it’s a group chat only for people involved with your Basecamp/Campfire setup and all conversations are logged so it’s easy to go back and see what everyone was chatting about while you were off last week. Assuming you want to know.
Whether Basecamp is for you will depend on the amount of people and the amount of money your business is making. For small to medium sized groups the $49/month plan is really what you need, particularly if you need to do time tracking. If time tracking isn’t necessary, the $24/month basic plan should suffice for most businesses — at least initially. If you’re not sure, or you’re operating on your own, be sure to check out the free plan hiding on the signup page:
Be sure to leave a comment with your thoughts or recommendations for what software you like to use to track lists, time or project management. I’d love to hear it and try something new out!