We’ve written about PM software before right here on our Modal Thoughts blog. As a matter of fact a little over a year ago we had and still have lots of dialog with other agency owners, PMs, and independents about Basecamp, Manymoon, rule.fm, Workforcetrack, etc. and we’ve determined after many months with Manymoon and playing with several other platforms that (drum roll please) that Basecamp is the decided winner.
Wanna know why we made the switch to Basecamp but don’t have a lot of time?- click here.
Why the Switch in the First Place?
In 2006 we made a platform change from PC to Mac. Yes, we’re a digital agency that used PCs- Dell XPSs as a matter of fact. But Microsoft Windows Vista slowed our productivity- it was clunky, crashed a lot, and did not play well with our Adobe Creative Suite. So enter the Mac OS and the departure from Windows- including the Office Suite.
We immediately noticed a return to productivity and actually realized some gains in small things like OS startup, Wi-Fi connectivity, and Adobe Creative Suite stability. And that change in platforms got us to thinking what else is holding us back? Where else can we be more efficient?
We’d been following 37Signals since the early days when they were a consultancy and not a product company. Their views on clean, uncluttered design agreed with our principal design approach- easy to use, good looking interface design. When we saw the first release of Basecamp back in the early 2000s we were honestly a little concerned. We thought that although the UI design was clean, it was lacking key functionality like Gantt chart creation and more sophisticated timesheet management and feedback capture.
But we decided to try the “lean project management” approach and immediately fell in love. But would our clients appreciate it? Would they be able to successfully navigate the app to find their files, add their comments, and view key project milestones?
To our amazement they not only found the app easy to use but they started collaborating more amongst themselves. We’d end the day about 6 PM and discover the next morning that there was lots of chatter within their internal teams without our moderation. Finally, one place to store files, acquire feedback, and achieve consensus.
We were on the 37Signals train for six years. Besides Basecamp we also used Backpack, Highrise, and sometimes their chat app Campfire. We were dedicated users of the software as well as the lean project management approach but… the old dog got a little long in the tooth. No new updates in many months- we were a little weary.
Enter Google Apps and Manymoon
In 2009 we switched from a hosted Microsoft Exchange email system to Google Apps for Business. It was one of those efficiency and cost reducing moves that we usually make once a year that prompted us to make the switch. And what we discovered with Google Apps was a whole new approach to working- more collaboration, cloud-based office suite, and access to files and email on anything with a web connection. We were smitten!
We started creating status reports in Google Docs and then sharing those via email. Then we started capturing meeting notes and then reports using Spreadsheets and Docs. We were making huge gains in efficiency except in one area- project collaboration. Basecamp stopped providing any significant updates, clients were so use to the app that we didn’t have to remind them where their files were, and we couldn’t find a good way to create docs and share them without leaving Basecamp out.
That’s when Manymoon entered the picture. It promised collaboration and sharing all within the same Google environment at a little more of a 10th of the cost (year over year). So we watched Manymoon, even spoke to their founder and UI guy over the phone after our first review of the app. Their use of social media, personal outreach, and enthusiasm to improve won us over. Within 30 days we had moved two clients over to the new platform.
There were several hurdles: client registration and overall onboarding was complicated, lots of Manymoon branding caused confusion regarding who emails were coming from, and the UI and UX frankly was more complex than necessary. But with promises of a pending UI/UX update we muscled through it until… we saw a significant drop in client collaboration. Sure we were posting project status and reports extremely efficiently due to the Google Apps integration but we were not seeing clients posting feedback on uploaded docs.
A long standing client finally mentioned their frustration with the overall experience. They said, “You all are all about making things easy. From the apps that you build to the information architecture you create for us. Your project management software should be as easy- like it used to be.” And that was the kicker for us.
Back to Basecamp
Since we moved back to Basecamp we saw huge improvements in collaboration with our clients. They are where they used to be prior to the Manymoon switch. They didn’t miss a beat as the UI is pretty much the same. We love 37Signals’ Launchpad approach with consolidated access to products like Highrise and Backpack and have thoroughly been enjoying the updated calendaring feature which has solved a long standing start and end date issue.
At the end of the day Basecamp was more expensive but well worth the investment. The Google Apps integration with Manymoon was not as fruitful as we had believed and client adoption trumps any other factors. As a User Experience agency we can’t afford to use a product that’s not easy to use and frankly, at least somewhat attractive.
We’ve summarized the key factors for our decision for both platforms below in hopes that other agency owners, PMs, and independents can make their own informed decisions when it comes time reevaluate their project management platform.
|#||Factor||Basecamp Grade||Manymoon Grade||Winner|
|3||Messaging (providing Project Updates)||B||B||Tie|
|7||Ease of Use||A||C||Basecamp|
|8||Ease of Recognition||A||F||Basecamp|
|9||Ease of Adoption||A||F||Basecamp|
|10||Google Apps Integration||F||A||Manymoon|
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