Stepsie is a promising small-and-simple work management tool

Stepsie is a new small-and simple work management platform developed when some of the team behind it became disenchanted with Basecamp. Jono Chatterton, an Australian in the team, wrote me this email:

G’day Stowe!
How are you?

In December last year you wrote a neat article about TaskWorld, so I thought you might like to know about a Basecamp alternative we have built called Stepsie. It is built in Estonia and is owned & run by a group of Australians & an Italian.
A year ago we were frustrated when using Basecamp, so we decided to take things into our own hands and built our own tool.

Stepsie’s user experience is based — at the highest level — on  projects. that are managed around the unifying concept of steps, which are more-or-less subprojects.
Thanks for your time and have a good day,

I was intrigued by the notion of steps, which as I dug into the tool I found to be quite helpful in a number of ways.
Here’s the landing page, where I have defined two projects:
Screenshot 2014-02-15 14.12.27
And when I click on XYZ Project, I see that it is made up of three steps:
Screenshot 2014-02-15 14.14.32
Note in the middle, below the navigation at the top, the project header, and the activity stream it reads ‘3 steps for Everyone’, and below that the 3 steps that make up the project are shown. Note that I have defined one step to be private to only me, so if I had logged in as a different project member I would have only seen two steps.
Here’s me filtering to see the steps visible to only me:
Screenshot 2014-02-15 14.21.03
Notice that these files  are those from all the steps I have access to: they aren’t filtered along with the step filtering above. The files are uploaded in the Steps.
Here’s the definition of a Step:
Screenshot 2014-02-15 14.25.07
As I said, this one is private, meaning that other team member would have to be invited to it explicitly, and otherwise it is invisible.
Steps are a shared context for tasks, files, and discussions. The files have to be included as an attachment to discussion posts, and are treated atomically: there is no mechanism for versioning. Also files must be uploaded: there is no way for files to remain synchronized through Dropbox or some other file sync-and-share capability. Jono said in an email exchange that this is on the short list for near-term improvements.
Tasks are simple but have reasonable metadata: title, due date, assignment, and a comment thread, and they must be defined within single step.
Discussions are basically like forums: an initial — perhaps styled — chunk of text (no means of embedding images, charts, or other work processing glamour), with a thread of comments. Here’s one discussion:
Screenshot 2014-02-15 14.33.19
And the special editor for the discussion description/lede:
Screenshot 2014-02-15 14.34.30
The Task navigation at the top allows the user to see tasks across all projects and steps, with a similar model of filtering as shown in the steps:
Screenshot 2014-02-15 14.53.26
The search capability looks very usable, with character-by-character narrowing of results:
Screenshot 2014-02-15 14.53.57

The Bottom Line

Stepsie has a clean uncluttered look, and the notion of steps has promise, as a subproject mechanism. But the product is so barebones that I couldn’t imagine taking on using it seriously until it gains a few features necessary to meet the minimum viable product level for me.

  1. Dropbox (and other) file sync-and-share integration — One of the benefits of adding Dropbox into the mix is that it not only solves sync but also solves versioning (especially it you pay for the Packrat feature, which means unlimited versions of files).
  2. Templates — Would be great to be able to create a standard checklist for some process, like what I go through to create a New Visionaries interview. I could then have a New Visionaries project, and each time I was setting up another interview I would create a new step based on that template. Since I have that capability in Todoist, I expect it everywhere.
  3. ‘Tooing’ of tasks or steps — There are a great number of situations where it is really helpful to be able to share a single task and maybe a single step in a project with an outsider. The workarounds for accomplishing this is otherways — like creating another project for the single task — are real pains. Since Stepsie conveniently has steps — which  have their own privacy settings and invitations — it would seem like the likely place to implement that.
  4. Its really helpful for file attachments like word docs and spreadsheets to be viewable without downloading them, so I expect Stepsie will be licensing from Crocodoc or the like.
  5. I would like to be able to have tasks exist in more than multiple steps or projects. There a dozen use cases, but the simplest is when the end of some series of tasks (step one) is also the start of another series of tasks (steps two and three, for example).

Stepsie is promising and tightly-designed, small-and-simple work management tool, and steps are a useful bit of social architecture. I can envision them also being displayed in more ways than at present, most obviously Kanban boards and mindmaps, but those are on the wish list, not must haves.