When Two Project Managers Love Each Other Very Much

Planning a wedding with Basecamp


K and I didn’t really get engaged. We more started openly discussing what it would be like if we stayed with each other forever, and then K methodically created a list of conversations we ought to have with each other to confirm whether we would be a good fit in the long run, ranging from money to kids to your parents to pets. (While this process sounds a little dry, the moment I realized while walking home alone that I’d conducted enough research and wanted to marry her, and then her reaction a few nights later when I told her, will go down as two of the headiest of my life.)

Once we were both on the same page about sealing the deal, we slowly started telling other people about the impending wedding/legally binding clambake. Because of this meandering, exploratory process, there wasn’t one particular moment that was the crossover from Before Wedding Planning and After Wedding Planning. In truth, the wedding planning process sort of snuck up on us. We were spending a lot of time talking about feelings and commitment and then realized that crap, if we wanted to do it, we needed to actually make a decision about where and when and how. We’re both project managers, but we manage said projects very differently. K keeps things pretty simple and direct, and I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can maintain relationships and keep people engaged while firmly telling them what to do.

For a few months, we had an elaborate behemoth of a spreadsheet (not nearly as elegant or organized as the APW ones) where we would throw stuff in as we thought about it. It took forever to open, it was difficult to envision a realistic timeline, half the time I couldn’t see it at work anyway, and K was forever trying to simplify it by deleting columns. (Yes! Still bitter about the deleted columns!)

We limped along with the spreadsheet and figured out some of the big stuff. We decided to get married at K’s church, with a party in the garden next door, and we knew we wanted it to be a clambake, but everything else was… murky. We weren’t particularly clear on how the guests, the two of us, or the clams would converge in one place to enjoy each other’s company. And we were struggling to figure out how to prioritize, since there were pieces of the day that mattered differently to each of us.

On yet another Saturday morning at our dining room table, K watched me start one more remarkably unhelpful to-do list with items like, “Think about ceremony!” and “Don’t forget umbrella in case of rain.” She finally suggested that we look into Basecamp, project management software that she’d being using for work projects over the past year. I was a little dubious, as I’ve cycled through a million different versions of project management software. Were we really going to work up wedding Gantt charts that marched our guests down the critical path? It wasn’t the most romantic option. But what we had wasn’t working so I was game to try it.

And oh my lord, you guys. Turning our wedding into a Basecamp Project was the best thing we could have done for our planning process, and by default, our relationship. For twenty bucks a month (and a free sixty-day trial!), you can map out milestones and connect tasks to them. You can respond by email or from the site to said milestones, and your discussions are then saved in one place, so poof, there’s an automatic history of every last link and song and poem you’ve ever kicked around. You can view everything in organized lists, or for the more visual, see them spread across a calendar.  You can upload shared files, like excel spreadsheets with guest RSVPs, and you can work on drafts of text documents together, like wedding ceremonies.

Here is where I could throw reminders to pack a bag with umbrellas and Rescue Remedy and Kind Bars, and then not think about it until the more pressing stuff was finished. And then I realized I could hammer out tasks by deadlines and assign them to other people (i.e., K). I could then let the program harass her instead of me into doing it. Seriously, that one feature alone could have sold me on it, but the single biggest reason to use Basecamp for wedding planning was getting to see everything in one single place. No more links emailed to one another that I then had to go back and hunt for, no more to-do lists scattered across Excel and Word and email and Google Docs, just one clean interface that made me feel like we were actually getting it done. And PS, I’m not even endorsed by Basecamp to say this all; I’m just their biggest free fan.

What made Basecamp so successful for us was the framework it provided for us to think through just about every possibility. We started with at least twenty to-do lists, maybe more, ranging from Outfits to Decorations to Accessories to Ceremony to After Party and so on. Seeing them all in one place gave us a place and space to have each of those conversations, and ultimately, we ended up with a much simpler wedding because we had an easy way to assess all the options and figure out where to channel our energy and funding. We realized that huh, making poufs and flags, as pretty as they are, isn’t actually as important to us as putting together a low-key welcome party for the night before. And that framework, however and whatever version of it works for you, is key to putting together a thoughtful celebration that has meaning for both of you. I would have loved to scribble it all out on brown Kraft paper and throw it up in a long hallway, but that’s impossible in a NYC apartment, so Basecamp was a great substitute.

It was so effective, in fact, that we now have a new, extremely long-term project, primarily in the research and development phase, tentatively titled “Miniature: All the things we’d need to do even though we really have no idea.” Ahem. Anyway, for the cuspy Sagittarius-Capricorns out there, who might spend a lot of time making to-do lists and then losing them, I recommend you give Basecamp a whirl.

Photo: Lisa Wiseman

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  • Rachel

    Fuck yeah logistics!!

    I love Basecamp but hadn’t thought of using it for wedding planning! I wonder if it’s too late for us to switch to that or if it’s actually the perfect time to switch that.

    • Sarah McD

      “Fuck yeah logistics!!”
      Pretty sure this is going to be my new motto. Thanks Rachel!

    • Elisabeth

      Never too late! Now that you’re down to the nitty gritty stuff (four months out, right?) I say it’s a great time to test it out.

  • We used Dropbox as our single point of documents. Not as fancy as Basecamp, but it worked for us. We’re text files and spreadsheets in a folder types, and this saved him from SSHing into my machine every time he wanted to look at something.

  • I’m a PM, and I want to use this tool!
    And “Logistics, WHOO!” is one of my life mottos (after safety first and Kaizen). Since I just can’t have cuss words in my mottos, but yeah, same thing. ;)

  • Granola

    Also, Trello!! I haven’t used basecamp as extensively, but Trello lets you basically pin virtual cards on bulletin boards, and then behind them you can have details and to-do lists and links, etc. Being able to drag information to different places when you want to reorganize it is super-helpful if you’re more visual/tactile.

    I second Rachel – Hurrah for logistics! It’s so satisfying.

  • Caroline

    And Asana which is free for small teams (like a couple planning a wedding). Love it!

    I’M a cuspy sag/cap (December 21, hollerrrr) an I make to do lists and lose them all the time!!!
    You have officially sold me.

    • Jen

      I’m a cuspy sag/cap too!!! (December 23rd) and I had that same moment of recognition reading that line. Love it!!

  • mimi

    Elisabeth, I’m going to miss your writing when your intern year is up! I’ve really enjoyed reading all of your posts. Well done!

  • adrienne

    I realize this post is about logistics and project management, but after reading I’m really curious about the list of conversations you wanted to have before you decided to spend your life together. What was on it?

  • Lindsey d.

    Just last night I sat down and typed out a month-by-month To Do list for the next four months (!) until the wedding and sent it to the fiance… His response was “glad you are that organized.” He hasn’t seen the secondary lists I’m starting — the To Do lists for each To Do on the master list!

    I’m checking out Trello now; the idea of it appeals to my Pinterest sensibilities and that I am not actually a good multi-tasker, but it’s kind of required in wedding planning.

  • mackenzie

    We got married a couple weeks before you and boy does it sound like Basecamp WOULD have been my best friend if I had only known about it. Our wedding was planned within an inch of its life (I’d re-think this if I had to do it over again), but boy was it a clusterfuck of emails, two computer monitors, google spreadsheets, pinterest boards, and a million tabs that are still open on my computer. Basecamp sounds like it would have been a godsend. And probably would have led to a much more streamlined working/planning process, and perhaps fewer things that I forgot to do until the last week despite planning 20+ hours/week for 13 months. Anyway, Basecamp sounds totally groovy. Nice work, ladies.

  • Bryna

    I am jealous that you are both Project Managers!

    I’m a PM. C is not. I had years of managing big & small events too…. and C has not.

    It’s been a big learning curve for me to realise that my need to have the event plan written and confirmed three months out from the wedding does not make any sense to C. I want to talk about the timing down-to-the-minute of the last toast transitioning into the first dance. C’s like “woohoo! let’s play cricket and do some dancing and I guess we should have some booze at the wedding!!!”

    It’s…. challenging.

  • Robin

    This is wonderful, BaseCamp is going into my “look into!!!” list, and HEY CONGRATS ON THE R&D FOR PROJECT: MINIATURE

    R&D and those big conversations are so emotionally rich and satisfying, possibly rivaled only by the decisions made after the R&D.