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Getting More Out of Basecamp

On 11.14.2015 by Andrew Zuercher

Basecamp is an excellent tool for collaborating with a wide range of role players on a project.  Whether a designer, non-technical subject matter expert, or a coder, basecamp can provide a ton of value as a platform for inter-team communication.  

Iterative Mode

You can use basecamp to run your projects in an agile way, using todo lists to represent your iterations and then running todos as individual stories.  This is great since you can adjust the assignments and communicate with the client in a very non-intimidating and simple way.  Certainly there are other tools out there that map to an agile process quite a bit more closely, but the trade off can be alienating the very clients you need to interact with.  

In this phase I like to map todo lists in the following way:

  • todo list => iteration
  • todo => story in the iteration

Scoping Mode

Additionally, Basecamp is great at the begining as you develop the roadmap too.  In an ideal scenario, before any project has begun, user stories are well defined by the product owner.  Their job is to identify what the needs are for a Minimal Viable Product (MVP).  But knowing what may or may not fall into a MVP is not always an easy task.  Time must be put in to define all the stories at a high level so that a roadmap can be facilitated.  Of course this path is subject to change and accomidating that is what makes agile processes such a good fit.

To answer the question of what the costs and schedule might look like, you can use basecamp to create these Product Backlog Items (PBIs).  There are ways to decompose your functionality into themes that help break the functionality into modular areas.  

In this phase I like to map todo lists in the following way:

  • todo list => theme
  • todo => story in the theme


Now, one of the problems with basecamp is that it doesn't provide a place for you to define estimates for your todos.  When coming up with a plan, understanding how long it's going to take (schedule) and how much it's going to cost (resource based estimates) is pretty important to know at a high level.  I like to use google sheets to help break this out but have found it to be a very manual process.  

Todo Exporter

So, over the past couple of days we've created a lightweight tool that can be used to help with some of this tedious work and provide traceability back to basecamp.  It's free, it's open source, and it's super easy to use if you are familiar with nodejs.  I called this tool basecamp-todoexporter and it's available via the following:

So this is what you do:

  1. define your themes as basecamp todo lists and your stories as todos (as we mentioned above in the "Scoping Mode")
  2. install the npm package on your local machine (see README.md for details)
  3. run the "Todo Exporter" command line client and save to a csv
  4. import the csv into your google sheets and then crank away on your estimates


Hopefully this is of some use to you, we may turn this into a product because it's been such an invaluable part of scoping.  In the meantime please feel free to enjoy this simple tool for your process.  If you are interested in seeing how Barrel Proof Apps can help you out with creating a roadmap for your project please contact us at http://barrelproofapps.com or send an email to info@barrelproofapps.com.