Recently I wrote a blog on the advantages of Primavera P6 Professional over Microsoft Project. Although not definitively listed as an advantage, I mentioned in passing Primavera P6’s more structured interface for schedule progression as a possible P6 advantage to consider. In this article I will talk about this probable advantage in more detail.
The equivalent of the Primavera P6 data date in Microsoft project is the status date. A reoccurring issue in many Microsoft Project schedules is that the status date is completely ignored. Many times companies send me schedules that show progress on the activities, but the status date has never been changed or updated – it’s still sitting back on the project planned start date. The true schedule situation is therefore inaccurately presented. Most likely their schedule says they are on time when in reality their schedule is behind. To correct this situation they need to use a regimented approach to updating their schedule.
This article discusses the status date (or data date), and a regimented approach to updating the schedule in both Primavera P6 Professional and Microsoft Project.
The reason I held off listing Primavera P6’s ‘regimented approach to schedule updates’ as among the pantheon of P6 advantages is that Microsoft Project has the exact same capability; it is just less apparent in Microsoft Project.
Why then are most Microsoft Project schedules improperly updated? Well, it is the combination of a lack of proper instruction and a confusing interface that make this regimented approach less prevalent in Microsoft Project schedule updates. So if properly taught and/or directed it is possible for Microsoft Project schedulers to update the schedule in a way that displays the true schedule situation.
The Status Date
First, I should explain the status date. The status date is similar to the closing date on your checking account statement. The closing date on your checking account statement is the date through which all transactions have been logged. Likewise the status date of your schedule is the date through which all schedule progress has been entered. Keep this status date imagery in mind as we continue and discuss the regimented approach to schedule updating.
What is this regimented approach? Something that is regimented brings to mind images of a military regiment marching to a cadence. This is probably not a bad image to have because there is in a way a cadence to updating the schedule. The cadence is as follows: enter status – move status date – recalculate the schedule. Again, enter status – move status date – recalculate the schedule. Enter status – move status date – recalculate the schedule… The cadence can work the same whether you are updating a Primavera P6 schedule or a Microsoft Project schedule.
When we say “enter status” we want the scheduler to enter the status of all activities up through the future status date, as described above. We next update the status date in Microsoft Project or P6 to this future date through which all status has been entered. Finally, we recalculate the schedule, i.e. update the project.
When we recalculate the schedule what happens is that the remaining durations of all incomplete activities are moved from the left side of the status date to the right side of the status date. This has the effect of pushing out the project end date. This pushing of uncompleted work or remaining duration from the left to right side of the status date is similar to a snowplow that pushes snow forward. The status date is the snowplow, which determines how far forward the snow or remaining duration is pushed.
Now let’s first demonstrate a proper schedule update in Primavera P6 Professional. Below, in Figure 1, is our demonstration project.
This project simply has several activities in series. To update the schedule we first enter the status, Figure 2.
Next we move forward the status date or data date, Figure 3.
This is done by selecting schedule and then updating the current data date field, Figure 3. Finally, we recalculate the schedule, Figure 4.
Our final updated Primavera P6 schedule is in Figure 5.
Note the data date on August 12th, 2018.
We continue by secondly demonstrating a proper schedule update in Microsoft Project. In Figure 6, we have the same schedule but created in Microsoft Project.
In Figure 7, we enter task status similar to our Primavera P6 schedule.
Next we move the status date forward, Figure 8.
Finally, we recalculate the schedule, Figure 9.
Note to recalculate the schedule we toggled “reschedule uncompleted work to start after: 8/12/18, and click OK. Now it does not say that 8/12/18 is the status date, but you can observe that it is the same as the status date. You can, if you want, change the “start after” date to any you specify. Its default date, however, is the same as the status date. After updating the project the final Microsoft Project schedule is displayed in Figure 10.
So the Microsoft Project ‘Uupdate Project’ dialogue is flexible, but not very clear. It would be easier to understand if the toggle, Figure 9, read “reschedule uncompleted work to start after: the status date.”
In Primavera P6 you know you are rescheduling work after the data date, because the schedule dialog specifically labels the date in the schedule dialog “current data date”.
Again, the Microsoft Project Update Project dialogue does not have a status date label for the date, and that may be the reason for the status date confusion in Microsoft Project schedules.
So the regimented approach is the same in Microsoft Project and Primavera P6 software programs. However, the P6 method is ‘built-in’, as long as you know to move the Data Date. On the other hand, in Microsoft Project, it’s an option that may or may not be known to the Microsoft Project scheduler, and on the face of it, appears to be not known or ignored in an overwhelming number of examples that we encounter.
Both Microsoft Project and Primavera P6 have a status date, which is like a snowplow that pushes snow (incomplete work) forward. And the same regimented approach to progressing the schedule is possible in both.
The Primavera P6 interface is less flexible, but more structured and understandable. And the Microsoft Project interface is more flexible, but also more esoteric. This cryptic interface may also explain the mystery as to why so many Microsoft Project schedulers neglect the status date; it’s not labeled status date in the update project dialogue.
This distinction between the Primavera P6 Professional schedule update interface and the Microsoft Project schedule (or project) update interface seems minor, but, again, appears to explain the mystery why I receive so many improperly progressed Microsoft Project schedules. But hey, that’s just my observations – perhaps your experience or reason is different. And on a more sinister note: I’ve found that some individuals avoid using the Microsoft Project ‘Update Project’ feature precisely because it changes dates and exposes delays in the project.