Blog: Secrets from the Chef

WorkSection Review

Yegor GilyovAuthor: Yegor Gilyov
26 December 2008

WorkSection: logoWe have been using Basecamp (web-based project management and collaboration tool developed by 37signals) for many years. I will not be able to truly emphasize on how important this tool is for us since our clients are scattered around the Globe and all communication with them is handled online.

For small service IT companies like ours, Basecamp became a de-facto standard. On one hand it is very convenient: new users recently invited into our cozy Extranet have no problem getting around. On the other hand, we get the feeling that Basecamp is “too tight”. And it is not surprising: you cannot please everyone and the guys from 37signals are well aware of that and not even trying.

Not to make it easy on Basecamp I can say that some of its features literally drive me nuts. Take for instance… however, wait a second, I will not give out the details just yet. What is that I wanted to talk about? We are slowly but surely looking for an alternative to Basecamp. And here in our blog we will be posting you on our quest.

So, let’s begin our journey in the endless world of Basecamp-like systems by reviewing the Ukrainian solution called WorkSection. WorkSection: promo-site screeshot

“WorkSection is a simple, nice and easy-to-use tool for organizing project team work” — tells us the WorkSection’s promo site. And, you know, it really looks like that. To tell you the truth, my first impression was very pleasant. A thought came across my mind: “Maybe starting my reviews with WorkSection was a strategic mistake?” If this system makes an attractive appearance, the quest for a better life might end, and we successfully migrate to this system. But let’s not jump the gun!

At the first glance, the system looks very much like Basecamp:

WorkSection: first sccreen

It is obvious that the developers did not target originality for the sake of originality, which is a good thing. But if in Basecamp each project is based on a blog, in WorkSection a project starts with a task. It seems like a good idea to me: starting with asking yourself “What is that we need to accomplish?” Tasks may have subtasks; one also can leave comments or attach files to the tasks. So, all the communication between the project members is done through tasks. And the “Tasks and communication” page gives an easy-to-read summary of all active tasks and even accompanied by the most recent comment:

WorkSection: Tasks and communication

In other words, this page shows the cross-section of the entire project. This is what I really missed in Basecamp, where the most topical subjects could be easily buried deep in the comments to a long-standing message! I described these problems in details in my article “What could outrank Basecamp?” and the solutions used in WorkSection look very similar to my proposals, which could not be more pleasing.

Considering this difference in the approaches it is not surprising that WorkSection does not have direct analogies of such Basecamp’s functions as Milestones and To-Dos. To some extent a task is a Milestone (since you can set the deadline for it) but as we have learnt the tasks in WorkSection are significantly more important. As for To-Dos, their role is played by the subtasks. Frankly speaking, I was always confused by the Basecamp’s metaphor of “To-Do”. Each time I used it I was troubled by the idea of naming the list until I finally gave up on it. I reckon, the two-level structure of “Tasks-Subtasks” is more viable.

What else can I say about managing tasks and communicating in WorkSection in this review? Here is a short list of pros and cons:

  • I am a bit confused by the list of comments without any pagination. And the list of comments also starts with the oldest comments. It seems to me that showing the most recent comment on top would make more sense.
  • However, it seems like there is no option for embedding a table or picture into the text.
For example, this is how a downsized portrait looks in WorkSection: And here is how it appears in Basecamp:
WorkSection: downsized portrait Downsized portrait in Basecamp

The experienced Basecampers would notice that I have not yet mentioned the time tracking. “Isn’t it included into WorkSection?” — they might ask. On the contrary! This function deserves a special coverage.

As you may have already guessed the time management in WorkSection is tied up to tasks (just like everything else). The hours spent on a task can be entered upon closing a subtask as well as at any other moment in time in the “Time” section (pardon the redundancy):

WorkSection: time

The fact that the number of hours for each task or subtask is entered, stored and displayed as a single digit raises some worries. I.e. there is no way of showing that I have spent three hours on a task on Monday and two more hours on Tuesday. Instead, I can only enter the total number of hours for the subtask: 5 hours in my case. Maybe for most of the users this is more than enough, but even the extremely simplified Basecamp allows for daily time management. I think that the developers of WorkSection failed to deliver here by limiting the product’s potential by simplifying the interface. Let’s hope that the future versions of the system will be more flexible and powerful.

I am also surprised by the way the task progress is measured. It’s worth mentioning that a user can set an expected time of completion for each project and every task. How can that help? Clearly, it is good for assessing the current progress. We can see the progress on projects on “Project Summary” and “All projects” pages. It appears like this:

WorkSection: task progress

But for some reason the time progress is not displayed on the task level. In the list of tasks the current progress is defined only by the number of closed subtasks:

WorkSection: task progress

This, in my opinion, does not hold any value and, on the opposite, may be misleading. It is very rarely that subtasks have the same resource requirements.

But these oddities did not spoil the overall impression from the system. I am sure it can have a bright future. Those who desperately search for an alternative to Basecamp are welcome to try it out. It’s worth it.

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