Tag Archives: information architecture

Backpack grows into a good small-business intranet

We’ve been using Backpack from 37signals for personal organization and page-sharing with small groups since last year, but we’ve kept most multi-user projects in Basecamp because it’s the more robust system for lots of users.

However, Basecamp is often too cumbersome for simpler projects, or projects with fewer than four or five users.  So 37signals just rolled out a major upgrade to Backpack and changed its pricing plans to make it more of a group tool, rather than an individual tool.

Read their blog about the philosophy behind the switch. It’s clear that Backpack is moving into the project management space that Basecamp has clearly owned for so long, but Backpack does have more of the small-business intranet features, as they state.

We’re going to try it out with a couple of group projects and see how it works. It does feel like 37signals products are creating more overlap with one another, between Basecamp, Backpack and Highrise, but they are all cool, and we have yet to be disappointed with their simplicity of design and clarity of purpose. 

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How to refresh the stale org chart

Constellation org chartI was challenged recently with finding a way to represent a departmental organization chart in a way that didn’t force people into traditional parent-child hierarchical “tree.”Ever since reading Gordon MacKenzie’s Orbiting the Giant Hairball, I’ve been fascinated with the idea of creating healthier, more collaborative workplace cultures by fostering “group-based” thinking and team environments. 

MacKenzie asks why we expect people to collaborate when we build metaphorical and physical “silos” throughout our companies? “Departments,” “divisions,” and similar terms get people thinking about separation, subconsciously at first, and then consciously later, when they relocate entire “divisions” to separate floors, buildings or states. What if we instead term people as “teams” “groups,” or “pods?” Would that semantic shift possibly foster other collaborative action?

Today’s organizations however, often have people in roles that are far too fluid to keep in a traditional org tree: dotted-line relationships up-down-and-across would keep a couple of full-time HR people busy in Visio just trying to maintain current org charts.

Group bubbles, on the other hand, allow people and teams to morph freely, assembling and disassembling as needed for special projects or new jobs. Putting the “head” of the organization at the center also creates a “nucleus” for the group, with team supervisors in an inner circle, and as many individual contributors as needed attaching to the team bubbles. Individuals in any role can be renamed, detached, and floated over to other groups easily without creating the “hole” that would happen in a traditional tree chart.

This image is too small to see the lines very clearly that connect the bubbles, but they’re there. Last but not least, it looks cooler and might inspire your people to think differently about your organization. “Magnet” connections in OmniGraffle and Visio can make the assembly and connections easy. Web tools like Flex could animate this for quick motion rendering. What else could you do with it?