Mohammed Faris, founder of ProductiveMuslim.com, shares his experience using 37signals products:
About a year ago, ProductiveMuslim.com was a one-man show, a simple blog where I shared some ideas connecting traditional Islamic philosophy to modern productivity techniques. I had a small readership base, and roughly 500 to 1000 fans on Facebook and the site was going no where. In one year, ProductiveMuslim.com grew exponentially, managing a global team of volunteers covering Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, India, Canada and UK and over 20,000 fans worldwide. Whilst there are many factors that contributed to this rise in numbers, throughout my journey the flexibility and productivity of 37signals.com products was one of the ingredients to this success story:
It all started at 'Camp...
When I started recruiting team members to help me with the site, we used Skype and e-mails for all sorts of discussions. My relationship with my team was mostly one-to-many, and it wasn’t ideal. I didn’t feel that I was making the most of the team’s synergy. I needed a system to bring the team together and get them to discuss ideas with each other.
In my search, I came across Campfire. It seemed ideal for providing us with a group-chat platform and what was great was it would save all our discussions in one central hub.
The same night I registered for Campfire, I sent a quick e-mail to my team inviting them to a special introductory meeting on Campfire. We ‘huddled’ (virtually) around Campfire that night and had one of the best team discussions ever! Campfire really facilitated that many-to-many communication we were lacking before.
A failed first attempt
After 2 months though, virtual camping wasn’t working for us anymore. Not a fault of Campfire’s, but it was the way we were using it. We tried to stretch Campfire beyond its means and used it as a project management tool. Of course, that didn’t work, there were far too many discussions in different rooms and people were losing track of who said what where. With the growth of our work, we needed a project management tool ideal for tracking our to-dos, sharing files, setting milestones…etc.
Then we all touched Base...
Thankfully, 37signal’s Basecamp was there with just the right tools to manage all our projects with optimal efficiency. The features of Basecamp rivaled anything else we had experienced.
The ease of use was a major selling point for us; any new team member who joins us can figure out Basecamp without any complex tutorials.
Currently, we manage multiple projects simultaneously with Basecamp including design projects and our recent relaunch of a brand new website. I love how we can invite people to certain projects then archive the projects for later reference. Everything seems to have been thought through with Basecamp, and meticulously designed so as to make any project management smooth running!
Time to go Backpacking!
Over the summer period, we had another website to maintain called ProductiveRamadan.com. By this time, I established an editorial team and wanted a platform to help the team easily collaborate on editing the content of our site and ensure accuracy of all articles published. Backpack became the ultimate back-end system for all our editorial work. With it’s checklist features, notifications, and Journal, Backpack greatly improved the quality of articles we published and helped us maintain consistency of style and format.
Over to Highrise...
By this time, I loved anything 37signals and decided to explore 37signals’ fourth flagship product: Highrise. I wasn’t sure how we were going to utilise it but decided to experiment with it anyway.
Admittedly, it was an uphill struggle at first with the team – trying to get them to adopt Highrise for all external communication with partners, sponsors, advertisers, fans, and writers. It seemed like an added element of work to them but I was certain that if we adopt this and used it to its advantage, it’d help us establish long standing relationships with all our contacts.
Thankfully, I was right. Once we got the hang of it (myself included), Highrise became an indispensable tool for our growing website especially with different team members speaking to different contacts.
Back to the camp?
So after our journey getting comfortable with Basecamp, Backpack and Highrise, I couldn’t believe that we failed using Campfire earlier, especially since 37signals itself (and thousands of others) use it everyday. Was it the way we used it?
I looked up articles on how 37signals.com staff work and read REWORK, then it hit me! We were using Campfire wrong the whole time! We were creating Campfire rooms for different projects, and my team members were discussing any project in any room making cross-project discussions inevitable, and people lost track.
What we should have done (and I’m currently trying to implement) is set up Campfire rooms for each team member, essentially setup ‘virtual offices’ for every team member. So if I need to speak to my IT guy, I just ‘pop’ into his office and ask him my question or start a discussion about a topic there. Also, other team members can pop by as well and add to the discussion/topic if needed. Organizing Campfire by person instead of topics/projects makes it far more intuitive and easier to follow.
In summary, I would recommend 37signals tools to any organisation who want to make their work more organised, efficient, and innovative. All their tools really help you become more productive in your work, and having used all four tools I can summarise their products in the following four sentences:
Campfire is for people.
Basecamp is for projects.
Backpack is for pages.
And Highrise is for the outside world.