Have you ever been to Basecamp?

The website for the Everest Base Camp has the meta-description tag “Be inspired, set off on an adventure, try something new or create something”. You may have heard the Web Team talking about Basecamp, but they are not talking about the one in Nepal.

They are referring to the web-based project management and collaboration tool developed by 37signals. And while you can leave your boots and crampons at home, this Basecamp can help you to be inspired and to create something new too.

How is this possible?

Aren’t we talking about building websites? Yes, we are. How can a project management tool achieve such a lofty goal? By providing a highly functional, easy-to-use place for everyone related to a project to share ideas and stay apprised of the project’s status. So, why does the Web Team use Basecamp?

Because Basecamp is essential to keeping the team organized. The Web Team currently has 109 active projects with more on hold. Over 50% of the projects are site builds or migrations to the Hopkins Medicine platform for the sites that represent JHM’s many clinical and institutional departments. Other projects are focused on improvements to the Hopkins Medicine site as a whole – this is where the new functionality you see such as the new banner and video tools come from. Some projects are focused on site maintenance, others on social media or search engine marketing.

Site builds and migrations are a feat of collaboration – representatives of the client requesting the site, marketing managers and members of the web team coming together to create a website that best serves the client’s marketing goals. Given the geographic separation of these collaborators, not to mention their busy schedules, Basecamp plays a crucial role in coordinating the site build or migration process. How can a tool do this? By providing the structure that allows all projects to progress in a predictable and timely fashion, available 24/7.

So what exactly does Basecamp do?

Basecamp is a project portal where all project participants can carry on discussions, upload and edit documents, assign and track scheduled and desired tasks and organize all activity through the use of project milestones, which lay out an ideal timeline for the project. Basecamp is a secure foundation from which the inspiration and creativity to create something new can blossom.

NOTE: In the section that follows screenshots from non-JHM projects (and found on the Basecamp website) are displayed to illustrate the features of Basecamp. JHM projects vary slightly, but are not used here since each JHM project is the private domain of the client, their marketing manager and the requisite members of the web team.

The Dashboard

When you first log into Basecamp, you’ll see a project dashboard which provides recent and upcoming activity for your project at a glance. A two week calendar displays the latest milestones and directly beneath you’ll see the latest activity – messages and comments and who they were posted by, milestones and todo items and the persons to whom they are assigned.

The Dashboard features:

  1. Items taking longer than anticipated appear at the top in red.
  2. You’ll see the JHM logo here.
  3. Anything due in the next 14 days displays on this calendar.
  4. Your project list displays in the right hand sidebar. Marketing Managers may see multiple projects. In most instances, clients will see only one.
  5. Latest activity across your projects displays here on the Dashboard.


Communication is one of the primary keys to project success. Marketing goals, web best practices and client desires must all come together in order to create a successful website. Basecamp provides a single location for all message threads. Images and documents can be attached to a message, just as they can in Outlook and all messages will deliver to and may be responded to from Outlook, as well.

The Messages screen features:

  1. Messages appear in reverse chronological order.
  2. Attach files and images to message just like you can with email.
  3. You’ll see the JHM logo here.
  4. Categorize messages. Feel free to suggest a new category to the Web Team.

To learn more on communicating in Basecamp, check out the 37Signals online messaging demonstration.

File sharing

Documentation is another key to the success to the success of a project. From marketing goals to information architecture to content strategy to communication plans, collecting, reviewing and evolving project documents is essential if the end result is to meet client needs and expectations. Basecamp makes it easy to upload files, categorize, sort, track versions and share deliverables. The Web Team will keep all project related documentation in Basecamp.

The File Manager features:

  1. Files are listed with icons, names, and descriptions
  2. Sort by date/time or from A-Z
  3. Group related files by category. Feel free to suggest a new category to the Web Team.

To learn more on file management in Basecamp, check out the 37Signals online file sharing demonstration.

Setting Milestones

As essential as communication and documentation are to the success of a project, no project can run smoothly and meet expectations without a plan. A plan lays out an ideal scenario, an expected timeline and completion date provided everything goes according to plan. Basecamp simplifies keeping track of what’s due, when it’s due, who’s responsible - and changing the plan as exceptions arise (which they almost always do, but that’s a subject for another blog post).

The Milestone screen features:

  1. Late items appear in red at the top of the Milestone screen.
  2. You may subscribe to your milestones in iCalendar format. (iCalendar, which is an application for MACs, integrates with Outlook. The Web Team is currently researching the possibility of allowing this integration with IT.)
  3. Milestones are color coded for late (red), upcoming (yellow), and complete (green).
  4. Related to-do lists and messages appear below a milestone.

Managing To-dos

Achieving milestones is the result of successfully completing a series of specific steps, or in Basecamp parlance, to-do items. These steps vary somewhat depending upon the project, but their goal is always the same – to achieve the associated milestone. The Web Team uses Basecamp to make lists, add items and assign responsibility. If your project is an especially complex one, you’ll see another type of to-do list, the Wish List. The Web Team uses wish lists to help clients keep track of and prioritize all of their ideas and goals for their web site.

To-do List Features:

  1. There is no limit to the number of Todo lists and items that Basecamp can manage.
  2. Completed to-dos are moved to the bottom.
  3. Todo lists and items within the list may be reordered so that most important items are at the top. Projects with many competing priorities often benefit from a “Wish List” where all requirements and features can be viewed in one place and prioritized for action as budgets allow.

To learn more on managing tasks in Basecamp, check out the 37Signals online todo list demonstration.

Be inspired, set off on an adventure, try something new or create something

In an ideal world, unlimited financial and human resources would make it possible for every web site to be unique and address infinitely complex goals. In the world in which we live, this is not possible, nor is it truly desirable. It is not possible because in reality, you have a budget that you do not want the creation of your web presence to exceed. And, it is not always desirable because there is rarely a 100% overlap between what you think your web presence requires and what best practice actually dictates is necessary.

The Web Team understands this. Their team of web specialists will listen to your goals and desires and help you to be inspired, craft a plan and create a web site that prioritizes your ideas and maximizes the impact of your investment. They look forward to collaborating with you! Contact them today at webcenter@jhmi.edu.

Next in the Project Management Series: Are you Agile?