As a result of being in “start-up” mode, I often have to analyze the decisions I make or have made, and adjust things to make our internal workflow more efficient. The theory goes that the more efficient things are, the better the company as a whole will be by providing more accurate estimates, time frames and cost-effective solutions for our clients.
Everyone wants to reinvent the wheel sometimes, but having limited resources, I realize that I’m not always going to meet the perfect solution for all of my needs, and that I often have to adapt my own processes to fit the offerings of services that make it their business to make my life easier. And so, as a result, I always love trying out new technologies and services that I think may help me focus more on making quality software than anything else. Accounting, time tracking, project management, CRMs, mail, calendars, document and contract management, and invoicing. Every one of these areas has undergone a significant revision at one point or another over the past year in an effort to improve things.
I first made contact with 37Signals’ Basecamp to a serious degree sometime around a year and a half ago, let’s call it January of 2011. What attracted me the most to their Project Management solution was that they seemed to have a fairly well integrated stack of technology available to make my life easier. It wasn’t terribly complex, but also not insultingly simple. The pricing was probably a bit higher than I had needed it to be; $99 a month for the complete Basecamp / High Rise package, but it seemed simple enough, so we moved forward with it.
For that time period leading up until now, my company lived and died by the activity on Basecamp and High Rise. Estimates went through HighRise, and projects, time tracking and billing through Basecamp. I had a few extras that plugged in to the service that were designed to work with it (namely for accounting and invoicing), so all was right with the world. It certainly wasn’t a perfect system by any stretch of the imagination, but the only perfection I expect comes from the products that we push out for our clients. However, over the past 6 months I feel as though I’ve had a falling out with 37Signals, the culmination of which leads up to the announcement in this blog.
The first shot across the bow came from Highrise. Once a deal was closed, there was no way to take all of that information and turn it into a project on Basecamp. I thought it kind of odd, so I decided to give another CRM, Insight.ly, a try. It wasn’t the best, but it saved me $50 a month using HighRise. Not a week after I cancelled HighRise did they announce through their blog that they had introduced a “Create Basecamp Project” button that people could activate after a project was listed as won.
The logical conclusion to come to was that it would have taken everything that was pertinent to the project stored in HighRise, along with the contacts, notes and project name and imported it into your Basecamp account. So, I re-activated HighRise. I then come to find that it’s only when you sign up for the Suite of applications that 37 Signals offers that this button became available to you. This meant that I, begrudgingly, had to convert my account into a Suite account, which came with it the wholly unnecessary Backpack and Campfire services, which I knew I would never use. Only to find out later that when a user clicks on the “Create Basecamp Project” button, it transfers nothing but the title of the deal over to Basecamp. No files, no contacts, notes, or details of any kind.
This feature now saves me exactly 0.5 seconds of time and I’ve got two extraneous services that I dont want. It wasn’t any extra money than I was already paying, but it seemed a strange misstep in logic to not include things that I would have considered primary to the existence of such a feature. If you were to call it a misstep on my part for expecting more than what was offered, you’d be fair to make that case. However, the end result of this was my feeling a bit jilted by the whole experience and was left with a feeling that they had just used me to up their subscription numbers to Backpack and Campfire.
Flash forward to approximately three weeks ago. A notice appears on my Basecamp dashboard that informs me 37Signals has unveiled a new version of Basecamp. I’m all for changing things up in the name of efficiency, so I decide to watch a few videos on how it works. It seems pretty decent to me, and they offered a 90-day free trial of the new software, so I decided to go with it. Also aiding my decision was the note included that 37Signals would no longer offer fixes or updates to the existing (old) Basecamp, which meant an eventually stagnant ecosystem as everything moved over to the new system.
After about a week or so of using the new Basecamp, it dawned on me that there are a few small, yet extremely important, features that didn’t make the cut into the new system. Features that, as a result, have propelled my interest into looking at other ecosystems for my Project Management needs:
- File Revisioning
- Time Tracking To-Do Lists and, consequently
- Generating Time Reports
It seems that, in their quest to streamline their service, they looked at a spreadsheet for too long and decided to nix features based entirely on the percentage of people that used them. In their effort to make things easier, they’ve made them considerably worse, and I can’t help but think that they made Basecamp easier for the people who work at Basecamp, but not much else. Since they’ve gotten rid of time tracking, they’ve also nixed an entire list of services whose business no doubt hinged (at least somewhat) on the fact that they were integrated with Basecamp to some degree. All time tracking, invoicing and accounting software services that made a major point of it to integrate with Basecamp now have zero reason to do so. They didn’t just make it more inconvenient; they’ve overlooked the people and services who helped make them great.
In case you think I’m a lunatic, know that I’m not alone in my sentiment. One of my inquiries into the time-tracking issue lead me to be answered by a Basecamp representative. They pointed to a blog post in which they essentially threw their arms in the air and said “Whoops”, and had claimed that they didn’t realize there was going to be such a backlash to the lack of Time Tracking. You can read the full post here:
37Signals: Lessons from Launch
In the meantime, I’ve taken another look at project management thru Atlassian On Demand. Now let me just say that, coming from Basecamp, JIRA is certainly no walk in the park. Indeed, it can get incredibly complex and deep to drill down into, but the level of customization is truly staggering; something which the power users I’m sure will find helpful. However, for all its complexity, it’s also incredibly encompassing and easy to manage. For exactly $30 a month (or 33% of the cost of Basecamp, for those of you keeping track), it offers:
- Project Management
- Time Management for individual team members
- Time Tracking for any and all
- AGILE Planning
- SCRUM Rapid Boards
- SVN / GIT / Mercurial code hosting solutions
- Google Apps Integration
All of this, coupled with the as-you-need-it scalability, makes JIRA and it’s offerings an incredibly attractive package. If I need, for example, to spin up a proper testing environment and invite 20 or 30 testers to hammer on a project, I can do so by flicking a switch and writing up some emails. Plus, I know I’ll never overwork someone accidentally because of their built in timing for tasks.
Again, I never expected Basecamp or 37Signals to provide all of what I needed for my company. However, I have a tendency to lose a tremendous amount of faith in a company that provides services that doesn’t understand the impact of the things it changes on such a grand scale. It’s that lost faith that forced me to look elsewhere for my software solutions, and what landed me on Atlassian On Demand.
Count Studio Symposium as one company who didn’t buy into the new vision for 37Signals’ Services.