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Open and honest communication

04 Feb 2005 by Jason Fried

One of the things that has surprised me most when talking with customers who use Basecamp is how many people work in a culture of fear, deception, and distrust. It’s often not their own fault, but more the result of the culture they are forced to operate in. It seeps in. It puzzles me.

There are a lot of people who ask if they can hide this or hide that or only let certain people see certain people’s names inside a project or hide the last time someone logged in, etc. There’s a lot of hiding going on. A lot of obscuring the truth going on. It puzzles me.

One of the top requests as of late is for a company to be able to hide contractors from their clients. They don’t want their clients to know that third party contractors are working on their projects. Anyway you look at that, someone isn’t getting the whole truth. It puzzles me.

And then there are the cases when people want software to step in with a solution instead of just politely explaining the situation to their clients. They want new features, modified features, obscure feature exceptions when all that is required is a simple conversation with their client to explain the way something works. It puzzles me.

Of course people are free to use Basecamp however they want (and Basecamp does provide the option to make certain messages or to-do lists “private”), but Basecamp is not now nor will it ever be a tool for concealment. Or control. Or to keep the project opaque. Basecamp believes that project management is communication, which is of course all about transparency and sharing. Projects end up better when the communication channels are open and honest.

At least that’s our point of view. What’s your take?

49 comments so far (Post a Comment)

04 Feb 2005 | DaleV said...

Agreed. In fact, Basecamp made us re-think that common practice of making our partners or contractors appear to be employees. Now we pride ourselves that we work with various 'contractors' because our clients know exactly who is doing what and that we are in control.

04 Feb 2005 | Keith said...

When I was at Boeing, toward the beginning of my career I was part of a Web team who's mantra was "clear and open communication."

As you can imagine, being Boeing, it was quite hard to get other groups into buying into that concept, even when we were doing really, really good work and out shining our peers.

There was too much fear, distrust, hidden agenda, empire building...blah, blah. Eventually we had to give it up, as we were beat down and broken up because of it, but I learned alot.

But was lucky (I think) as I saw early on the benefits of this kind of transparency and it's something I took with me and still carry to this day.

In my opinion if you are hiding something it's because you have too or feel like you need to. A lack of confidence in your skills or experience can cause this.

When I do business if people can't speak open and honestly, or worse seem to be purposefully vague or obscure, it raises a big red flag.

I want to work with people who are honest, confident, positive and competent. Part of this means speaking plainly, recognizing your faults (no one is perfect) and having nothing to hide.

This is how I see how communication really should be. It's too bad it seems like many others think a bit more like the way you describe...

04 Feb 2005 | sloan said...

It is all about fear. Which is understandable in many situations. When becoming a teacher they emphasize that you make it clear what the students should be doing at any time. What it takes to be successful. How many businesses do that? It isn't about micromanaging time, it is about openness and building/learning. It is when people are not clear about expectations, responsibilities and such that fear creeps in. If you don't know how to "prove" that you are doing your job, then you start to fear that anything can "prove" that you aren't.

One company I worked at had open peer reviews. You had your manager and then 3 people you picked to do your bi-annual review. One of which could not be on your current project. You knew who said what but it was expected that you would be given things to work on, so you wouldn't just get a great review everytime. I thought it worked brilliantly because it was clear, no behind your back comments about your abilities, but an open discussion of how you could improve.

Now, for people that lacked confidence this was a difficult process, but it focused on what you did well, AND what you needed to improve on. So over time, even those types started to see it as a great way to see their own improvement.

As for things like Basecamp, the more a project team hides from one another, the more assumptions are made, the more UN-informed decisions are made. If you have "secret" information, talk face to face or send an email. If it effects the project and is in the tool, then it effects what everyone ON the project is doing, so they should know.

My current employer does a horrible job of communicating (something I am working on) and it causes all sorts of problems, delays, and mistakes. And of course, then there is a bunch of finger pointing...

04 Feb 2005 | Peter Cooper said...

The problem is that while we live in the 'new' business world, many/most are forced to remain in the 'old' world. This is a world where hierachy and unwritten ettiquette rule the day. Business is opening up, but it's taking time.

04 Feb 2005 | Pedro - Brazil said...

I totally agree.

Software must model the reality, not the opposite. This is excelent because those wanting to hide some stuff must change their reality in order to use Basecamp (or try a software that model the way they are).

Sorry about my poor english, I'm from Brazil.

04 Feb 2005 | Clay Loveless said...

As others have said, it's all about fear.

I frequently work as a sub-contractor, and am often asked not to reveal that I'm not an employee of the consulting firm that has the actual client contract.

My impression on this is always that the groups I'm working for are afraid that if the client realizes that the person doing heavy lifting on programming is not an employee of the firm they hired, the client will just come hire me directly in the future without having to pay the middle-man firm the markup for my services.

A legitimate concern, in some cases I've been involved in. Sometimes the middle-man firm brings something significant to the table to justify their markup, but sometimes they don't. It's obviously in the cases where they don't that the biggest fear exists.

04 Feb 2005 | Dave said...

Ever think that the client may not want to see everything but still see some things? Reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry hires a contractor to redo his kitchen and the contractor asks him and tells him about every little detail until Jerry screams "just do it!" which he does incorrectly of course.

Selectively revealing details does not equal dishonesty. If the client insist on seeing all details, then you hide them, then, yes, that's dishonesty.

04 Feb 2005 | Ryan Mahoney said...

This is a wonderful question! I understand the merit of JF's sentiment and personally agree. I also think that useful software should do what people want it to do. We've all heard of "social software", but JF is introducing "ethical software". I also sense a bit of posturing in this post "It puzzles me" is mentioned several times... I don't think the issue is so difficult to understand, even if you don't subscribe to the viewpoint.

On the other hand, I like the idea of a tool having a personality and even a culture to it. So, I think it's nice that Basecamp has this characteristic if only for the sake of it maintaining a unique sense of identity. If a customer want to operate their business this way, well, they can purchase a different peice of software, build their own or even "embrace and extend" this one. It would be nice if their were greater diversity in this market and tools that suited the needs of various modes of operating.

A lot to think about here!

04 Feb 2005 | Wade Winningham said...

I think it's very ironic that companies do indeed operate by trying to hide things like that and the one single thing I've learned from people who run businesses or are very high up in large organizations and are good at what they do is that they don't like surprises. The one key to keeping them happy is open and honest communication.

04 Feb 2005 | anon said...

Oh, the communication is terrible where I work, and there is a lot of confusion, fear and jadedness because of it.

1) There's no real hierarchy or chain of command. So no one knows who the hell to talk to get anything done around here. Confusion
2) When people get fired, it's akin to a mob hit - one minute they're here, the next minute they're gone. There's no explanation, not even an acknowledgement, and the rest of us are left to whisper and speculate. Fear
3) Meanwhile, there are people that work here that are obviously incompetent (some which lofty titles and salaries, too), further undermining our trust in upper management. Plus, they don't pay anybody very well, either. Jadedness

04 Feb 2005 | Sasa Ebach said...

"Projects end up better when the communication channels are open and honest."

Yes. What people fear is that their careers / business will end up worse. I suppose one could argue all day about what is more important. Good things will be easily visible and bad things, too. After all, knowledge is power. Really open communication is a dream for most. People will certainly not lose their fears through using basecamp. Basecamp is for the fearless. Maybe I should try it? ;)

04 Feb 2005 | Mihira Jayasekera said...

You're exactly right: the crux of the project management at the end of the day is accountability.

I'm currently managing a project that is, to put it mildly, well behind schedule. Before we started using Basecamp, we found it difficult to keep track of communication threads with our client (including feature requests, bug reports, etc.). Basecamp has allowed us to hold ourselves accountable by making all those threads open for everyone on the project to see. Now, there is no more scrounging for emails from months past, no more hiding behind "he said, she said." We've been really pleased, and our frustrated client has even told us she loves "the extranet." The more accountable we are, the happier everyone is. Honest, clear communication does win the day, and will hopefully help us win back the heart of client.

I should also note: Basecamp has not only helped us manage projects better, it has allowed us to improve the way our whole company operates, opening up communication that had been happening in silos. I was finding it difficult to stay up on what other people outside of my team were working on -- and there are only ten employees in our company. Keeping communication lines open, even for a tiny company like ours, is extraordinarily difficult. Basecamp has given us a forum to open up communication lines, which has been invaluable.

04 Feb 2005 | Andy Crouch said...

There's a book coming out this spring that promises to be quite relevant to this topic, Dennis Bakke's Joy at Work. From what I know of AES, the company that Bakke built, one of the most significant things they did was to erase the layers of intra- and inter-corporate secrecy. Line level employees were given as much information as executives--and corresponding amounts of responsibility. A pretty amazing model of a different way to do corporate life--in the big-iron energy business, no less--and it worked well until the company got dragged down by guilt-by-association with Enron, currency crises in some of their key markets, and, believe it or not, Bakke's overextending his personal finances because he was giving too much money away. All of which the book promises to talk about. Worth looking for.

(The full disclosure: I once worked for an organization that received a grant from Bakke's foundation. But that's the extent of my personal connection with him--I'm mainly just an admirer from afar.)

05 Feb 2005 | jharr said...

I think that what you are seeing is an evolution in software. Not simply the product of common business processes and methods, but, as some have mentioned, a direct influence or modifier of those processes. Many people are forced to change their processes to match a software design because of a lack of requirements, poor design, etc. Your situation is unique because you've designed this model with purpose and conviction. With the goal of advancing communication and allowing transparency. Being adaptive to customer feedback is certainly an important tenant in any business model, but so is the ability to differentiate yourself from the competition. This may very well be your differentiator, but how will ultimately impact the bottom line? Best of luck.

05 Feb 2005 | Miguel Marcos said...

There's no way around anonymity sometimes. There can be certain portions of a project that you want to remain under tight control. Maybe it's not that you don't want your client to see you've hired a subcontractor, perhaps you want the subcontractor to work only on a portion of a project without knowing what the entire project consists of, or only certain people in the organization should know and understand the entire project is, etc. If you've got a golden idea that no one else seems to have, transparency is one of you biggest concerns!

05 Feb 2005 | Andrew Hume said...

"only certain people in the organization should know and understand the entire project"

That's the crux of the argument. I believe that every member should understand the entire project. How can someone work effectively when they don't know the goals and targets?

05 Feb 2005 | Bruce DeBoer said...

Honesty is a great thing. Our company works in a culture of open disclosure. We have a sister company called Synthesis Ad Group which is - more or less - a virtual agency that hires teams and acts as an Marketing Strategy, Account Service and Progect management organization for clients - hiring creative teams as needed.

However - and here's the key - we often bill a flat fee. Sometimes we eat expenses to get a better product and sometimes we are able to get a great product out the door in a shorter period than we anticipated. The return to our client is that they are assured of getting the best at an established price. Yet - by revealing all of our sub contractors involvement and time commitment it tends to raise needless questions. Everyone loses.

Once you post information it is subject to false interpretation. Consequently - at Synthesis - we avoid poetential risks of that nature and establish everything in a proposal at the beginning of the project. Sometimes - depending mostly on the client culture - it isn't wise to allow full access to project information. Just showing a Gantt chart is often all that's necessary. Everything else is for internal use or informatiion we would rather persoanlly present to avoid confusion.

I hope that helps. I almost wrote, "cause we have our reasons - just make the changes and keep us happy" but that could be interpreted in a negative way which is not how I mean it at all. You have a great product.


05 Feb 2005 | freddiemac said...

i thought you were all about usability, you know., giving the customerss what they want instead of telling them what they need? just give them what they want in a prject management project. friggin a

05 Feb 2005 | Nick Finck said...

You'd be surprised at the number of companies that you know well who are hiding.. or.. shall we say, not fully disclosing how they do business. I don't mean Enron kind of stuff.. I just mean that, hey, if you your a one man band, what's so wrong with stating that? Heck, if you can tap some of the top experts in the field to help you out on projects but they arent your employees, what's so wrong with that? It puzzles me to no end. Whatever happened to being honest? Oh, enough of me ranting.

06 Feb 2005 | Julian Scarfe said...

you have an excellent product. great interface/simplicity/usability. i think most companies i work with could be basecamp clients.

and it's good to have a manifesto, a mantra, even a utopian worldview. yes, i 'buy' the idea that projects will succeed from better communication, rather than more charts and diagrams.

that said, if using your product requires that everyone involved share and practice even your (37signals) most utopian beliefs, then the potential market for your (excellent) product will decrease by about 98%.

i know it would be depressing for you to add the ability to hide contractors from the client. it doesn't seem right to you. but it's an absolutely excellent example of a needed feature, one that addresses the gap between reality and the utopian vision. clients don't always 'get' what makes a service a success. It should be obvious to them that my company brings together talents and executes tasks in holistic way that addresses the client's needs. But they may be quick to imagine that all they need is that sub-contractor of mine who does the copywriting, even though he can't run a business and can't see the big picture. I'd love to educate the client, but if i take up their time with lectures than my company is just that much harder to work with than the next guy.

You've talked about time tracking features. I'd love to add rates, costs, etc. But i don't want my juniors and subcontractors getting free lessons on how to run an agency and price large jobs. I want to pay them fairly for the services. And i don't want them quarreling on who worked the most hours or added the greatest value to the job. they shouldn't, but they probably will, if they get to see the whole business, in all it's detail.

my 2.

06 Feb 2005 | Randy said...

Julian, time tracking doesn't even exist in Basecamp yet so there's really no point in criticizing what isn't there.

And as far as the reality vs. utopia you speak of, you sure make it sound like you think your clients are less intelligent than you. This pretention, this idea that they don't "get it" is sad.

Further, if you have confidence in your solutions you shouldn't have to hide people from your clients in fear that they will steal them away. Be open and honest with your clients and they'll be open and honest with you. When you set up the culture of deception, don't be surprised when they follow suit.

One more thing. A lof of people sign contracts with their clients saying that they won't bring in third parties to do the work, yet that's exactly what they do. They farm out the work. And then they suggest that the client doesn't need to know about it because they don't understand what it takes to get a project done. That's shameful.

My 2 cents.

06 Feb 2005 | Julian Scarfe said...

fair comments, and yet, i think you missed the point. some people sign contracts not to bring in third parties, then they do. you're right, that's shameful (I don't, but when i do employ subcontractors, I'm not terribly interested in putting them front & center in front of my clients unless i have a business reason for doing). you're right, I should be free to have long philosophical chats with my client, and reveal all the inner workings of my business model & practices, and they should be so overwhelmed & impressed that they never consider working with anyone else. And that often happens.

but that's a philosophy. a way of doing business. one that's pretty hard to practice perfectly in the real world. one that a lot of people & companies aren't even interested in. basecamp is free to design/implement itself in such a way so as to only appeal to such pure practitioners. but it's a much smaller market than people & companies who are simply looking for a clean, usable project management/collaboration app. and basecamp is great at that.
the more basecamp solves it's customer's real problems, the more it will be a great service.
the more it forces it's clients to follow a vision of how the world should work, the more it will be a great idea. and only an idea.

06 Feb 2005 | Randy said...

Actually, Julian, Basecamp doesn't force anyone into anything. It's incredibly flexible which is why it's such a pleasure to use. Unlike many other Pm tools (and I've tried a bunch), Basecamp doesn't have any "workflow" features that force you into their way of working. Basecamp is structured just enough to give it structure and unstructured enough to be flexible enough for almost anyone to use it.

But like all software, it has certain rules of use and certain limits on features and capabilities. No product can do everything or make everyone happy. Decisions have to be made at some point. If you think you can build something better and make better decisions, you are free to do that and compete.

I'm sure 37signals has received hundreds of feature requests. If they don't implement each one does that mean that they are imposing their strict rules on their customers? Or does it mean they are making judgement calls about what they want in their product? I think 37s knows that a product that does everything doesn't do anything particularly well.

07 Feb 2005 | Darrel said...

Nothing to disagree with there. That's how I've seen most medium-to-large web firms work.

That said, we're now in the age of fear, right? That's how everything is done. Fear of terrorism. Fear of being laid off. Fear of outsourcing. It's rather silly.

Anyhoo, I now have a huge distrust of most 'enterprise software vendors'. Most of them work in the same matter, and instead of telling you straight up how their product works, what it can (and, more importantly, can't do), they hide behind a curtain of marketingese, stock photography, and 50 page EULAs. Pathetic.

07 Feb 2005 | Shawn Oster said...

I've always noticed it's those that make their money as simply a go between that want to hide details; not in an effort to make a simpler experience for their end-user but out of fear that their clients will go straight to the source. I work at a company that uses a dealer channel to resell software and some dealers want the clients to know nothing about us and vice versa. How little worth or "Value" in the VAR equation must someone be adding if they have to hide both end-points from each other?

I don't even understand hiding contractors from clients either. When I buy a new house I'm not under some odd impression that the builder is building everything themselves. Of course there are contractors for plumbing and low voltage and all that.

The only time I'd support hiding is when it makes the client's end experience simpler and easier to navigate. If I'm hiding to-do lists and internal milestones that mean nothing to a client. Other than that keeping secrets is just a pain in the butt.

07 Feb 2005 | Brad Pauly said...

"Projects end up better when the communication channels are open and honest."

I couldn't agree more. I have only played with Basecamp a little so far, but I like that this is part of your manifesto. Very refreshing.

07 Feb 2005 | Bruce DeBoer said...

The thrust of Julian's comments are on the mark. Those of us who've worked in various capacities - big business to sole proprietorship - know the comments speak from experience.

No lies - just efficient, solid business practices designed to get a great product out the door quickly and make everyone happy.

- Bruce

07 Feb 2005 | Brendan Avery said...

It feels like as long as we exist in a system which commodifies information (this is nothing new obviously-- the guy who learned how to make fire first may well have horded that knowledge to maintain dominance in his group) people will try to horde knowledge -- and the only way you can horde knowledge is to hide knowledge.

I personally agree with the 37signals philosophy on this -- the only way we can make inroads into a less secret business universe is to start demonstrating the benefits of transparency by putting it to work for us. Unfortunately, for many, they are bound by the rules and culture of the organization for which they work.

My goal is to find an employer or become an employer that appreciates and evangelizes transparency. Its all we can do. Fortunately it seems like things are becoming more transparent and social every day. Go - Go 43things - Go Basecamp :-)

07 Feb 2005 | Erol said...

Why exactly do we need a "less secret business universe"?

The idea that only middle-men need to hide things is ridiculous. Not everyone has access to an unlimited supply of talented contractors, or zen-minded clients with big budgets. The reality is, many of us are doing quality work, and not getting paid enough to do it, but we don't have a choice.

Are other users of Basecamp not getting underbid? Pressured by clients to launch right away? Dealing with the surplus of out-of-work (oh sorry, freelance) web designers and developers?

When you're scratching it out, to pay your rent, or feed your kids, unnecessarily exposing yourself to potentially unscrupulous contractors by way of making a project "transparent" is an absurd risk to take.

Frankly, no one needs to hear condescending rhetoric from a product developer or it's users, because they desire a certain feature. I in fact have not requested this feature, but if there was a check box to hide client specifics from a contractor (or vice versa) I might instinctively click on it as a matter of self preservation.

For those of you out there, who are puzzled by this, or can't comprehend such a deceitful world, consider yourself lucky, and ripe for the taking.

37Signals' ideals, personality, and creativity are the reason they were popular amongst web designers/developers (their competition) before Basecamp ever existed, many of us aspired to be like them, wished we were them, or wanted to work for them. It is disappointing that JF would now, after all of their success, (some of the most recent at the hands of these same people) decide that anyone not fortunate enough to share their world view, is not good enough to use Basecamp.

07 Feb 2005 | JF said...

It is disappointing that JF would now, after all of their success, (some of the most recent at the hands of these same people) decide that anyone not fortunate enough to share their world view, is not good enough to use Basecamp.

It's disappointing you would make such an uninformed assertion. We're not forcing anyone into any worldview, we're just stating ours.

In fact, we've added more privacy and permissions features since we've launched. You now have more control over who sees what (and who can do what) today than you've ever had before.

07 Feb 2005 | clear said...

isn't the 37signals logo an optional feature on basecamp? i think you might even promote that on the basecamp site.

if you are going to preach transparency, then that should be a permanent fixture of your software as well... why on earth would you make that an option? it puzzles me.

07 Feb 2005 | JF said...

if you are going to preach transparency, then that should be a permanent fixture of your software as well... why on earth would you make that an option? it puzzles me.

The Basecamp logo or a mention of "Basecamp" isn't displayed anywhere on paying plans. There's a small little logo in the bottom right for free plans, but when you pay there's no logo or mention anywhere. And there's never a mention of 37signals or a 37signals logo anywhere.

08 Feb 2005 | clear said...

that's my point... your group understood the reasons why folks might not want to display your logo. here is a quote from your own site:

since the basecamp brand name or logo isn't displayed anywhere, basecamp is transparent to your clients they'll think it's your own custom-built solution.

seems to me you understand loud and clear. why would you be puzzled?

08 Feb 2005 | Andy Crouch said...

Frankly, JF, "clear" has got you there. There's no way to parse "They'll think it's your own custom-built solution" and get "open and transparent."

08 Feb 2005 | Tom M. said...

I've been riding the fence on this, leaning back and forth with each comment I've read so far (there's a fine line between having an enlightened world-view and sounding self-righteus), but "clear"'s comments regarding "hiding" the 37signals logo really struck a cord. Sure, it's a small detail of the software, but it does more to diffuse JF's original post than anyone else's attempts at rebuttal. Perhaps this is an example of a "real world" situation as opposed to a philosophical ideal?

Aside from this discussion, I really love 37signals' work, the principles of it's manifesto, and the resources and products they make available.

08 Feb 2005 | Ritz said...

Basecamp is tool for people managing projects to communicate better with their clients... Adding Basecamp and 37signals all over wouldn't create better communication. Seems like a perfectly sound decision to keep that separate.

Everyone who purchases Basecamp knows exactly what's going on and can use that info however they see fit. Whenever a client I have asks about it, I tell them it's Basecamp and you should go get it as well. If I wanted to lie and say I made it all I could.

37signals is trying to make a product with their ideals without force feeding their name onto other people's projects. I may be nuts, but it seems like they are helping others keep their relationship with their clients open and communicating. Which is the whole point.

08 Feb 2005 | JF said...

Frankly, JF, "clear" has got you there. There's no way to parse "They'll think it's your own custom-built solution" and get "open and transparent."

Yup, you got us there. It's up to the firm to decide if they want to tell their clients they are using a third party tool. By keeping the logo and name off the product we make it your call.

08 Feb 2005 | Randy said...

OMG! I can't believe what I'm reading. 37signals takes the 37signals logo and Basecamp logo *OFF* - yes *OFF* - their product and they get criticized for it? This may be the first time I've heard a company be criticized for LESS branding! For NO logo!

08 Feb 2005 | Tom M. said...

I'd also like to clarify, because my point may have been missed: my issue is not the fact that they give the option to remove their logo from the product once purchased. Kudos for "unbranding" something, and people can do what they want with it. I agree with "Ritz", "JF" and "Randy" above on that regard.

I just think it's ironic that JF comments on the "fearful, dishonest, and distrustful" culture we work in (I agree), but the logo option is sold partly by the phrase "They'll think it's your own custom-built solution". I understand the spirit of the option, but the phrasing is what makes it ironic. To me, it pokes a tiny hole in the original philosophy. Maybe if that phrase was more along the lines of "we don't want to make your project management about us, but more about you" or something, it would read better.

08 Feb 2005 | JF said...

Tom, check the language on the last item from the Manifesto.

08 Feb 2005 | Tom M. said...

Thanks for pointing that out. Well said. That's a much better way to present essentially the same message. In essence, your clients will think of you as a hero for choosing and using a smart and efficient piece of software, not because they mistakenly believe you developed it yourself. The presentation on the Basecamp page didn't strike me the same.

08 Feb 2005 | JF said...

We'll have a look at the other language and consider tweaking it. Thanks for the feedback.

08 Feb 2005 | Julian Scarfe said...

listen to your customers.

JF, you say you're puzzled, but i think the words might be saddened, even a little surprised. As clear pointed out (and you conceded), the unbranding of basecamp points to an understanding that knowledge is a business resource, or asset, and it is sometimes smart to keep it to yourself. I imagine that some of the openness advocates in these comments are very technical service providers - programmers, etc., who believe that all they sell is their niche, technical expertise. But for others, a subcontractor network, project management skills, client communication skills, budgeting/pricing skills are all business resources/assets. If there were complete openness in Basecamp (there isn't - i'm grateful for the privacy controls already implemented), we'd have to keep even more project related info OUT of basecamp to protect those assets. Where is the line between openness that facilitates effective collaboration (Basecamp's goal) and freely sharing all your expertise & knowledge, teaching your clients and contractors how to do exactly what you do - teaching them how to replace you? I don't always know, but obviously for many customers (myself included), we want finer control of how to walk that line.

Of course, Basecamp has taken a stand to not execute to every individual feature request. The designer(s) have, i think, made generally excellent choices, balancing useful functions against simplicity/usability/"learnability". Please continue to make those calls.
BUT listen to your customers. they do seem to want finer grained control over who sees what.

08 Feb 2005 | JF said...

Julian, we do listen. We're great listeners. But there's a difference between listening and implementing everything people want.

If we executed on every idea our customers had, well, Basecamp wouldn't be a product you'd want to use. It would be cluttered beyond belief. It would be so slow, so cumbersome to use.

We have to wade through hundreds of requests and figure out which ones work for the product and which ones don't. So we listen and then we decide.

So, please don't equate not giving people everything they want with not listening.

08 Feb 2005 | Julian Scarfe said...

sorry, i thought i made that clear > I think you've done a great job of balancing features (and implementing requests) against usability. It's a key part of why Basecamp is such a success.

I'm just saying recognize the difference between individuals' quirky requests (I've got plenty that i never expect to see implemented) and widespread requests that form a trend... Your article suggests you are seeing a trend in the requests. as designers, do you think it is not possible to develop finer grained permissions without diluting/complicating the software? I've been pretty impressed so far with your ability to to make the complex simple. not just remove the complex.

08 Feb 2005 | Julian Scarfe said...

to be even more clear, I'm VERY aware that you read all feature requests. that you listen. I probably wouldn't be so excited about Basecamp otherwise.

09 Feb 2005 | Randal Rust said...

By day, I work for a large IT consultant. All of our clients are public sector, and all of our clients want things to work in a certain way -- mostly the way you described -- very strictly and secretively.

It is a holdover from the client-server days, at least it is around here. A time when people did not work in large collaborative environments. Historically, our clients have shown themselves to be very particular and possessive about their data. They don't want anyone to see anything they are not 'supposed' to.

The funny thing is, most of our developers are the same way. They seem to have a tough time grasping the concept of showing and hiding menu options, rather than graying out buttons.

In my opinion, the approach to development of a web application by pure web people is vastly different than the approach that is taken by C++, Java or Cobol programmers.

The web developer puts stock in the UI, because he or she has had some type of training in that area. The other programmers look at it as a necessary evil, and think that what sells the product to the client is the fancy J2EE architecture with Websphere and Oracle.

I find that people like me, who cut their teeth on graphic design and then moved to the web, have a much better idea of how to approach building a useful application than traditional programmers.

This is why Basecamp is a good product, but also why you get those comments that are considered strange.

11 Feb 2005 | Erol said...

08 Feb 2005 | JF said...
Tom, check the language on the last item from the Manifesto.

From the manifesto...
...we'll certainly never contact them. They are yours and yours alone.

JF, I'm afraid your follow up, validates the other point being made in this discussion, some of us have no problem with transparency with our clients, but we may not want to give the keys to the castle away to every new hire or contractor.

PS - Your reply seemed very hostile, maybe my original message did too, and thus deserved it, I just wanted to clarify, that maybe my choice of words isn't always the best, but I consider this a spirited debate and not a verbal fist fight. We wouldn't be here if you hadn't already done an amazing job, so peace, love, and keep up the good work. I have no intention of stopping the charge to my credit card this month, or any month in the forseeable future.

12 Feb 2005 | clear said...

gotta give them points for adapting fast. did 37signals already remove this language?

since the basecamp brand name or logo isn't displayed anywhere, basecamp is transparent to your clients they'll think it's your own custom-built solution.

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