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How to Use Basecamp – Best Practice Tips

by | Jan 2, 2015 | For Our Clients, Project Management

I first started using Basecamp in my first PM role about 10 years ago. Since then Basecamp has undergone several major upgrades. We use “Basecamp 2”. In this article I’ll share some advice on how to use Basecamp. Basecamp is often touted as a project management tool, however, I prefer to think of it as super-simple To-do list for the organisation of tasks and centralisation of communications during projects.

Benefits of Basecamp

  1. Centralised communication – A major advantage of Basecamp is keeping all communication in the one place. There’s nothing worse than searching through hundreds of email trying to find a piece of information.
  2. Web Based – Wherever you have an internet connection you can access your project information.
  3. Mobile App Version – Basecamp has an app for mobile devices for an optimised experience on tablet/mobile phone.
  4. Secure – The Basecamp website is protected by SSL security.

Basecamp Best Practice and Tips

As with any system, its success or failure to a large degree is a result of the way in which you use it. There are plenty of ways to use Basecamp, here’s what’s worked for me over the years, my best practice Basecamp tips for our clients in order to get the most out of Basecamp and make the web project processes as efficient as possible.

1. Use To-do’s, not Discussions

Most of the time, communication between agency and client will require something to be done, and if that’s the case, always create a “To-do” rather than a discussion. A discussion is basically a simple email conversation, whereas a To-do can be assigned to a specific person, with a due date and also include a discussion.

Add a To-do in Basecamp

2. Assign and Re-assign

Ownership of tasks often changes. For example, I might ask a you to sign off on a design as part of a standard web development project. So I would create a task and assign it to you. If you then have some questions or require changes, you should comment the task appropriately and assigned it back to me. When I see that a task is assigned to me (via email notification) I know that I need to do something. Once I implement the changes or provide the requested information, I then re-assign the task back to you. This process of assigning and re-assigning can continue back and forth indefinitely until that particular To-do is completed. Assigning tasks clearly indicates who currently has ownership of the task in order to move it step to step, towards completion.

Assign ownership of a task in Basecamp

3. Only Hook in Those Contacts Who Need to be Included in the Discussions

When you add a comment to a To-do, you have the option to notify everyone (default) or tick check boxes to include individual people. Over the course of a project there will be hundreds of To-do’s and discussions, with updates daily. Each time you are tagged in a conversation, you will receive an email notification. So avoid spamming with unnecessary comments, and only include contacts who “need to know”. Everyone else will thank you for it!

Tag contacts in Basecamp comment

4. Only Ever ONE Task or Topic per To-do

This should be considered the cardinal rule of using Basecamp… Only ever include one task or topic per To-do.  Always keep it specific. Often times there will be multiple tasks on the table that could be considered closely related. But always keep them in separate To-do’s. This is critical to track specific issues and stay in control of what’s done and what’s not.

5. Use Screenshots and Attach Files to To-do’s

Sometimes it’s hard to describe issues with just words, particularly if you’re not familiar with all of the web lingo we bandy about. Screenshots are a great way to illustrate an issue, particularly when it comes to feeding back bugs and issues during QA. You can attach files (images, PDF’s etc.) and Google Docs (we love Google Docs) directly to a comment.

Add files in Basecamp

6. Keep the Conversation in Basecamp

Centralised communication is one of the key benefits of using software like Basecamp. We ask our clients to “keep it in Basecamp”. If you’ve got an issue to raise, question to ask, or task to be completed, do it in Basecmap rather than email. Once you get into the habit of this, you’ll come to see how much easier it is to work within Basecamp as opposed to dealing with many random email trails. Email chains are notorious for evolving from one issue to another, making life difficult when you try to search back in history to find what you’re looking for.

7. Email Notifications – Always “Click Through” to View on Basecamp

Each time you are tagged in a conversation, or a task is assigned to you, you’ll receive an email notification. Please always click through to read and respond to the thread in Basecamp. Don’t simply reply by email. Why? The author could have made changes or edits to the message (I.e. the contents of the message may have changed), or other contacts may have already/added to the conversation. So to ensure you’re acting on the most up to date info, always click through to respond. The screenshot below is of an email notification in GMail, note the link at the bottom.

Basecamp Email Notification

Go Forth and Project

There are plenty more tips and I’ll be updating this post regularly. The Basecamp tips above, represent what we consider to be best practice. This is what has worked for us over the years that we’ve been using Basecamp.

I hope you’ve found these tips useful, with the ultimate goal being a successful web project through accountability (on both client and agency side) and the efficient handling of information.

Edits

This is a living document and will be updated from time to time.

  1. 23.01.2015 – Added “6. Keep the Conversation in Basecamp”
  2. 23.01.2015 – Added “7. Email Notifications – “Always “Click Through” to View on Basecamp
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