A software package a day: BaseCamp

In an earlier post I mentioned that I use MindJet MindManager to plan small projects, or small parts of larger projects. For larger projects, or for projects that require collaboration with stakeholders that are geographically  separated, I tend to reach for BaseCamp. The monthly pricing is quite reasonable even for an individual developer and virtually free by corporate standards.  However, the free personal accounts have been eliminated, which I suspect is slowing adoption as I would have never bothered without getting one personal project well along the way before upgrading to a higher plan and starting direct use with my clients. I guess they must be feeling pretty secure in market share.

The main draw for me to BaseCamp is the incredible simplicity of the product. I don’t have to train people to use it: they see the tabs, poke around to-do’s and are off and running. More advanced features can be explained as the need arises.

I turns out that for a vast majority of projects a set of prioritized to-do lists (assigned to responsible team members) linked to milestones makes for a completely usable solution to the problems of managing tasks. The private message boards, chat system, time tracking, write boards and file upload areas are more than adequate for managing mid-sized projects and there are many add-ins available (for additional cost) from third parties. Overall I’m happy with BaseCamp for line-of-business applications.

Clearly it is *not* designed for projects that require strong controls (time tracking is self reported, Gantt is one of those add-on products and to-do lists are not traditional management tools). For a good team of self motivated programmers, designers and testers it works great up to mid sized projects that use Agile or similar methodologies. Having delivered a dozen subprojects/small projects using BaseCamp I can say that it works. It isn’t perfect (I would like more reporting options) but it is good enough… and incredibly cheap.