Basecamp to Google Spreadsheets
After a few months with Obtiva, I’m still happy and I’m bursting at the seams to write about all of the developments happening internally. One development that I can’t keep in is our switch to Google Spreadsheets with a few of our clients.
Traditionally, we’ve used Basecamp for client facing project management. For some projects Basecamp is a wonderful tool. If your client is technically savvy then Basecamp is fabulous, but many of our clients aren’t Web 2.0 compatible. As beautiful as Basecamp’s interface is some of the finer parts are not intuitive to someone who thinks in terms of Web 1.0. The technological rift that Basecamp created was a problem because it required our clients to think and live in our webish world. For some of our clients, who are baby steps beyond e-mail, a draggable editable list is inconceivable. They were intimidated by the complexity and I began to notice the number of days since last login rise past days and weeks until the last login was about a month ago.
Meanwhile, I was using the Stylish Firefox plugin to change some of the terminology that Basecamp uses. I like to think in terms of iterations instead of milstones and the word ‘To-Do’ doesn’t give enough context for an act of work that needs to be done. Our client also had some domain specific language that was causing problems. I was hoping to ease the mental translation that happened every time I logged into Basecamp and keep the language of our projects ubiquitous
As Basecamp usage died, conversations that could be posted in the messages section of Basecamp were being sent directly via e-mail and a client shared an excel spreadsheet that contained all a punchlist of work that should be in Basecamp. Dave uploaded the spreadsheet so that we could all edit the document and suddenly we were working on the same page as our client. I think it’s important to meet clients at their technical level. Thankfully, this client displayed their level of technical expertise perfectly. Spreadsheets.
In the corporate world, the interface overhead with spreadsheets is extremely low since everyone expects the spreadsheets to define themselves in the same way through names columns, rows, and some data. Sales representatives, financial advisors, CIOs, and secretaries can all read and edit spreadsheets with ease. Since our clients are comfortable with spreadsheets they are far more willing to share them. We found out our project spreadsheets were being opened up at many desks around their office. Internally our client used the spreadsheets for project planning meetings and progress meetings. With the documents available to everyone, our work became visible throughout their entire company.
Collaboration is the place where Spreadsheets shine the most. Once the right people have access to the document all at the same time the feedback loop becomes short. Briefly, I’d like to share some of the techniques I’ve used to increase productivity and communication. Take a look at this quickly made demonstration template since we’ll be running through the columns.
I use On to indicate which part of a project I’m currently working on. When I start a story, I make the On cell green so that our clients quickly spot what I’m working on. Using color instead of words makes glancing much easier for them.
Description and location set the context of the story.
Rank is used by our client to indicate what should be done next. Usually the first story on the list is most important, but our clients have multiple people deciding on the order of importance. Rank gives me the ‘official’ next story while they move stories around.
Difficulty is a quick estimation of how hard the story is when technical difficulty and time to completion are considered. When a new story is on the list I give it difficult so the client can rank with that information.
Completed is filled in the moment the story is done and then I turn the story light orange once that story is deployed to production or staging.
Questions and Answers are a quick way for either party to get details straight. When a new question is entered we highlight it until the other party answers and removes the highlighting.
Iterations are inserted between stories and take up an entire row, which we color light blue to match the Google theme. Matching the color makes it easier to focus on the current iteration.
So far, these few columns with a little color thrown in have a few of our customers feeling like they know exactly what is happening and they are much happier due to that knowledge. The difference between our simple spreadsheet and Basecamp is night and day and I thought you might benefit from that knowledge