Monday, September 18, 2006

Comparing BaseCamp and TeamDirection Project

The other day, Online Degree left a comment asking me if there are other project management software solutions I would recommend. Usually people are loathe to compare their products with potential competition since a) its basically impossible to be objective and b) nobody wants to give the competition free pr. However, Online Degree also said "You seem to be very knowledgeable about project management software," and flattery still works for me. And in truth, we do look at the competition because everyone has good ideas. Furthermore, proper product strategy requires you to know what's going on. So, let me break a taboo and compare BaseCamp with TeamDirection Project.

BaseCamp is a 100% web based application that runs on most browsers. While this is a challenging environment for products solving moderate to high complexity problems, BaseCamp carries it off with aplomb. I admire the group and their accomplishments in bringing richness to the web browser environment. The greatest advantage a web app enjoys over a desktop app is the guarantee that every user is running the same version.

TeamDirection Project is a hybrid desktop application. It does need to be installed on the desktop, but it comes with deep web service integration for both SharePoint and Groove. A simple version was released in July, but a richer version is coming in October that everyone is very excited about. It offers full integration with SharePoint and Groove Task Lists and Link Lists. This allows some users to use TeamDirection Project and other users to use browsers as everyone works on the same tasks in the same project. So to answer a question Online Degree raised, you could indeed have your Mac users work with TeamDirection Project through their Safari browsers and SharePoint.

The first thing I notice is we have similar philosophies for demystifying project management. Perhaps the best way to demistify a discipline is to make it understandable. Both products achieve this quite nicely with clear, straightforward language and well-thought out UI decisions and production. Neither product requires special training, and in fact offer the ability to be productive within 10 minutes. (One of the greatest compliments you can give any product I write is 'It's a simple product'. Products are rarely simple. If someone thinks it is, then I've done my job.) And because both projects do such a nice job of alleviating the intimidation of project management, they offer a palatable onramp for everyone who knows they should use more than a task list, but haven't.

Both products recognize the value of communication in order to execute a project successfully. But here we begin to see some tangible differences between a web app and a desktop app. Whereas BaseCamp creates a 'Messages' tool for its users, TeamDirection Project integrates with Microsoft Instant Messenger. While the BaseCamp solution will work on most browsers, the TeamDirection solution will work with most MS messengers and offers additional features like presence. This means if you have a question for a team member, you can see if he's online, send an instant message and get an instant answer. And, of course, Microsoft is improving instant messaging all the time.

Both products also recognize the value of ease of use. But again, we see what is possible with a web application versus what is possible with a desktop app. BaseCamp provides a nice way to create and update a task list, but very little to assist with scheduling, grouping and filtering. TeamDirection Project, on the other hand, has very rich scheduling, grouping and filtering support, and gets to use cpu power on your desktop to do some cool scheduling tricks. But you may not need scheduling right away; and if not, then BaseCamp is a very nice shared task list.

Finally you should ask yourself what you may need to support your projects. If you just need to share a task list with people, track progress and do simple reporting, then BaseCamp offers a compelling solution. However, if you would like to integrate your task list with any other system, then the web applications server side strength turns into a desktp liability in that your task data has very little mobility. TeamDirection Project has import, export and synchronization with MS Project (for all your reporting needs) and the ability to push, pull and synchronize data with SharePoint and Groove task lists-- nicely integrating with the MS Office system. If this sounds like a bit of a technological leap, then BaseCamp is a natural. But if this sounds like your current business requirements, then TeamDirection Project helps you get the most from your collaboration pieces.

Furthermore, TeamDirection Project is designed to facilitate the exchange of project related data across multiple systems. For example, we are also looking and integrating with MindManager in addition to MS Project. (We've received positive feedback so far.) In fact, if BaseCamp had a web services interface (which they may; I might have missed it), we would definitely look at integrating with BaseCamp much as we integrate with SharePoint and Groove. BaseCamp has an excellent task UI, better than either SharePoint's or Groove's task lists and we'd love to use it. Our basic philosophy is its your project data, you should be able to decide how best to work with it.

In the end it comes down to choice, as always. If I must rate them, then I would rate BaseCamp better in terms of getting started and working with simple task lists. And I would rate TeamDirection Project better in terms of integrating with other systems and providing more scheduling, task grouping and instant messaging functionality. But in truth, both provide you with the tools you need to create, execute and review your projects success.

BaseCamp is a monthly subscription with pricing info found here.

TeamDirection is a one-time purchase and will have two flavors:

1) TeamDirection Project
2) TeamDirection Project Plus

Most of what I've described above is the Plus version. Current pricing for TeamDirection Project can be found here.

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