Basecamp is often at the top of lists when it comes to a web-based, collaborative project management tool. I’ve always loved its simplicity and the fact that little to zero training in the actual software is necessary in order to get things moving. At the same time, I’ve found that they often err on the side of oversimplifying, and there are a few features I’d really like to have in my toolkit. That said, I wasn’t looking to adopt a complex tool like MS Project either.
I recently heard about WorkZone, which is supposed to offer a bit more flexibility, and I thought I’d give it a try. To cut right to the spoiler alert, I was impressed. While the learning curve is a bit steeper than Basecamp’s for administrators, the additional features are worth it. Better still, admins get the ability to shut off features they don’t want to use, keeping the learning curve as short as possible for team members.
WorkZone: The Basics
The WorkZone interface is simple for everyday use by your team members. The top menu is free of clutter and intuitive to understand:
Admins will be spending a bit of time in “Setup,” but most team members will be doing most of their work from the “Project Tracker” tab. They will land on that page as soon as they log in, and it’s delightfully simple to look at.
In the top left, they see this:
As you can see, they can easily switch views to see a list of tasks everybody’s working on, see it as a Gantt chart, see a list of products, or look at any recent activity that the team has been up to.
The Task list takes center stage, and it’s pretty self-explanatory, as this screenshot shows:
You can easily see who is responsible for what, and when projects and their tasks are due. The status column lets you know if something has fallen behind.
The red comment balloons in the PROJECT/TASK column pictured above, let you know that there are new comments to look at. To see the comments, all you have to do is click on the task to open them up and see them:
This interface makes it clear when new comments are in the system, and makes it simple to add comments to tasks, projects, and documents whenever it makes sense. Users receive email updates when comments are added to ensure that the messages don’t get missed.
You’ll also see a blue “email” button on almost every screen that you can use to keep in touch. If you set it up as an admin, the users will also get automatic email alerts about upcoming tasks and more. (We’ll get to that in a minute).
Some might complain that this interface is a bit stripped down, but I actually like it that way. It removes the clutter of social networks and focusses on the two most important things: who is talking and what they are talking about.
This screen also directs users straight to any documents they need, and project or task information.
Once they’ve completed a task, all they need to do is return to the Task List, click the box in the status column, and mark it as complete:
What I really love about all of this is how simple the interface is. It would take little or no training to teach your team to use this interface.
The other key section for your team is the “reports” tab. If I had one complaint with WorkZone, it would be that the sidebar looks a bit more intimidating than it actually is. These reports give you all the same information that you can find in the Task List, but make it easy to sift through the information to find something specific.
This reports area is one of the features that some other platforms out there could really use, but that they have neglected for fear of cluttering their interface. I personally think it’s worth the trade-off.
The most useful feature here is the “To-do list” which your team members can use to see what they have ahead of them. This is the same information they’re getting from the task list, but meant specifically for them.
If you enable it, they can also use it to see what other team members are working on.
Reports like these are what make WorkZone especially helpful when you’re dealing with a large number of people and projects, where it starts to get difficult to determine who is doing what and when. And if you’re wondering about price, it starts at $200 per month.
Benefits of This Project Management Tool
So, in the big picture of things, what is WorkZone useful for?
All in all, I would say WorkZone is most suitable for entrepreneurs and managers who want something relatively simple, but who are looking for a few more capabilities than other collaborative platforms that have stripped down their interfaces. For example:
- Task dependencies – WorkZone allows you to schedule tasks so that if deadlines don’t get met, subsequent tasks get pushed forward. This is one thing that Basecamp is missing in its arsenal.
- Subtasks – While management should never go crazy with subtasks, the inability to create them is a design flaw for many of us in management. There are some tasks that you just can’t plan properly without breaking up into smaller goals.
- Cross-Project Views – The Task List may be simple, but it doesn’t limit your view to a single project at a time. Software built with a single-project focus is really only useful for startups, and isn’t always the best choice for a business, even a small one, that has multiple projects to work on at a time.
- Time-Tracking – WorkZone makes it relatively easy to see where time is being used, and by who, so that you can allocate resources accordingly. It’s no substitute for a time tracker app like Toggl, but it’s nice to have time tracking fully integrated with your project management software.
Putting it all together, I wouldn’t necessarily make the controversial claim that WorkZone is better than Basecamp — but I would say that it’s a better choice for entrepreneurs and managers who are dealing with something fairly complicated, but who still want a simple, collaborative interface in their project management tool.