Primavera P6 Professional and Microsoft Project are both capable software tools for professional construction management and schedule creation. Although the applications feature similar workflows, there are a variety of differences between the two programs.
There is often a debate between project managers in regards to which software is best. One advantage to Microsoft Project is that the program is more accessible for beginner users. However, although Primavera P6 does contain a bit of a learning curve, it contains a variety of features that can be used to complete advanced workflows, more efficient processes, and higher quality CPM schedules – many of which Microsoft Project lacks.
For those still considering which PPM software to use for their next project, here are 7 benefits to using Primavera P6 Professional over Microsoft Project.
1. Multiple User Access
Primavera P6 allows multiple users to work on a single project at the same time, allowing for collaboration from team members regardless of location. P6, when set up with a SQL Server, makes use of a centralized database, meaning that project updates can be maintained by various users concurrently. Updates made by one user can be seen by another user within the database right as they happen. This helps maintain communication between all team members throughout the entirety of the project lifecycle.
Microsoft Project, on the other hand, locks a project when in use by a user, so only one user at a time can work on a project.
In terms of collaboration, Primavera P6 can offer a big advantage over Microsoft Projects by allowing multiple project partners to work on an individual project simultaneously. In terms of ensuring communication with project partners worldwide, Primavera P6 is the clear winner.
To see which users are currently working within a project in Primavera P6, select File > Open. Select the desired project and press Users. The Project Users dialogue box will display all users that currently have the selected project open.
2. Unlimited Baselines
In both Microsoft Project and Primavera P6, you can create and save baselines. Baselines act as a copy of the schedule at a particular point in time, and are generally used as a benchmark to compare future progress against. It’s a good practice to regularly create new baselines as the schedule progresses. Depending on the length of the schedule, you may find the need to create many baselines throughout the project’s lifespan, such as after each status update period.
In Microsoft Project, only 11 baselines can be created for a project. Primavera P6, on the other hand, allows you to create unlimited baselines, which can be especially useful for longer schedules. Additionally, in P6, as many as four of these baselines can be compared against each other at any one time.
If you need to create and compare a variety of baselines simultaneously, you will want to use Primavera P6. The ability to create unlimited baselines allows for more sufficient project comparison and analyzation.
To create a baseline in Primavera P6, select Project > Maintain Baselines. Select Add from the Maintain Baselines window to save a copy of the current project as a baseline. Continue to create new baselines as schedule updates occur.
3. Variety of Activity Types
When adding activities to a schedule, Primavera P6 and Microsoft Project allow you to choose from different activity types. Activity Types determine how the activity will be scheduled in the project – such as if the activity is dependent on the task or the resource, or if the activity only starts or only ends.
Microsoft Project features only three different “task” types that can be assigned to an activity; Primavera P6, on the other hand, features 6 different activity types, allowing for more variability when scheduling activities.
One activity type that Primavera P6 features that is absent in Microsoft Project is Level of Effort. Level of Effort activities span the entire duration of the project and summarize groups of activities, making it easier to see the overall progress of other activities in the schedule.
P6 also features Start and Finish Milestone activity types. Both P6 and Microsoft Project feature milestone activities, which represent major events in the schedule, but P6 alone distinguishes between Start Milestones and Finish Milestones. This differentiation helps you to more efficiently see how the project is progressing and how close it is to completion.
To change the activity type in Primavera P6, first select the activity from the Activities table. The activity type can be chosen from the drop down field in the General tab of the Details section.
An important part of project scheduling is cost loading the schedule with resources and expenses. Both Primavera P6 and Microsoft Project allow you to create resources with related costs to estimate the budgeted total cost of the project.
P6 also allows you to add planned, remaining, and actual project expenses to be entered at the activity level. These expenses can be created for one time costs, such as training, travel, or materiala. Microsoft Project doesn’t have this capability – this is unfortunate, as the addition of expenses can make it easier to keep your recurring global resources separate from any one time expenses.
Primavera P6’s ability to differentiate global resources from expenses will help with organization and efficiency when working with future projects.
To add an expense to an activity in Primavera P6, select Project > Expenses. Select Add on the toolbar, then select the desired activity. The expense will appear in the Project Expenses tab as associated with the selected activity.
5. Activity Steps
When working with a schedule with a multitude of activities, one issue you may run into is an over-packed and cluttered Gantt chart. The Gantt chart is meant to provide you with a quick timeline of activities and their progress in the schedule – but if the chart is overloaded with activities, it can be difficult to process all of that information.
For this reason, Primavera P6 allows you to create Activity Steps – instead of having to create a new activity for every small task in the schedule, you can have related tasks represented as steps of a single activity. The Gantt chart will only display Activities, so using activity steps can keep those tasks in the schedule without cluttering the chart. Activity steps also give you a way to measure specific activity progress by percentage of steps completed.
Microsoft Project, on the other hand, has no option to create Activity Steps – instead, each step would need to be added as its own activity. For a large schedule, this will predictably lead to a cluttered and overpacked Gantt chart.
To add steps to an activity in Primavera P6, select the activity and use the Steps tab in the Details section. To add a new step, press Add. The Activity Steps tab can be used as a to-do list where items can be checked off when completed.
6. Progress Spotlight
After a baseline schedule is created, it’s pertinent to continue to update the schedule by statusing activities as they start and finish. Progressing a schedule is a task that will need to be done over and over again as time goes by, so it is useful for the scheduling software you use to make this process as easy as possible.
Primavera P6 offers a feature called Progress Spotlight that highlights activities that are due to be statused, allowing you to quickly identify which ones need to be updated. Microsoft Project, on the other hand, requires you to create filters to find activities that need to be statused. In order to do this, you would need to first create a filter – adding another step to the statusing process.
P6’s Progress Spotlight tool not only can help you to more efficiently status activities, but it also requires no extra effort from the user.
To use the Progress Spotlight tool in Primavera P6, select View > Progress Spotlight. All activities that should have begun in the selected time period will be highlighted in both the Activity table and the Gantt chart.
7. Issues and Risk Management
When working with projects, occasionally the unexpected may occur, and it’s important to have a way to notify stakeholders of any issues or potential risks that may impact project completion.
Primavera P6 has features to support the monitoring of current issues and potential risks from discovery to resolution. The Project Issues tab allows you to enter in any issues that are discovered that may impact the schedule’s progress. The Risk Management tab lets you identify and prioritize potential risks – each which will be given a Risk Score that can be used to help evaluate the significance of that risk.
Microsoft Project, on the other hand, has no tools that allow you to manage and identify issues and risks. This can lead to a lack of vital communication between project managers and stakeholders.
To add an Issue in Primavera P6, select Project > Issues. Select Add from the toolbar to add a new issue.
To add a Risk, select Project > Risk and select Add from the toolbar.
There are many other differences between Primavera P6 and Microsoft Project. Primavera P6 offers a lot of useful features that are absent within Microsoft Project, making the application more useful in terms of project efficiency and communication among team members.
Although Primavera P6 has the benefit of the listed features above and is generally preferable in the construction industry, many beginner users may find the software to be a bit difficult to use and understand. For this reason, it is always a good idea to take a Primavera P6 training course, which will outline how to use the program with live demonstrations and hands-on activities.
Taradigm offers a one day, virtual training course for Primavera P6 that will teach you the essentials of the program and help you around this learning curve. You can find our next Primavera P6 Essentials course on our calendar.
Additionally, we now also offer a two day, virtual Primavera P6 Advanced course. If you have some experience using the program, but are looking to further your knowledge of the program, this may be an option for you. You can find our next Primavera P6 Advanced course on our calendar, as well.
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Lauren Hecker is a Primavera P6 Professional Instructor and teaches onsite and virtual Primavera P6 Fundamentals and Advanced courses. To see her next open enrollment course, please visit our calendar. To schedule an onsite or custom course, please contact us!