Primavera P6 vs Microsoft Project: The Differences
Are you trying to make the decision between whether to adopt Primavera P6 or Microsoft Project?
When we’re delivering training, we hear this question a lot: “Is Primavera P6 better than Microsoft Project?”
Well, it depends on your definition of ‘better’! We spend a lot of time leading or supporting Primavera implementations, but also have plenty of experience working with the Microsoft suite. They are both decent scheduling tools depending on what you are looking for. So, Primavera P6 vs Microsoft Project? Let’s take a look at some differences to help inform your decision.
1. Scheduling approach
Primavera P6 Professional takes a top-down approach to scheduling. That means you first work out what you are delivering or what the end result is going to be. This should (in theory) be quite straightforward as you have the information from the project brief or business case. The first thing you have to do in Primavera is set up the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). Once all the deliverables are in, you can add the tasks required to make sure they are completed.
Microsoft Project lends itself to a bottom-up approach to scheduling. In other words, you need a list of tasks first. Then you can group them under a summary task and indent the levels to represent the activities or deliverables that the project will create. Microsoft Project will allow you to create a WBS hierarchy, but the way it’s approached is different. In our experience, most people start with tasks and then build up from the bottom.
Neither approach is right or wrong: top-down and bottom-up both get you to the same place – a complete view of what you have to do in order to complete the project to the required specification. The consideration here is what your planning process is and whether a formal WBS is created at the beginning.
2. Critical activities
Both tools have different options for showing the activities that are going to have the most impact on schedule delay.
Primavera P6 Professional uses the longest path critical activity definition. Microsoft Project uses the critical activities to create the critical path. The longest path could be the same as the critical path, but that’s not always the case. You could have a situation where there are critical activities but they aren’t on the longest path.
The longest path is helpful to know. If you can shave time off of activities on the longest path, you can get the project delivered more quickly. Therefore, there are some advantages to making sure you can easily identify the route through the project that is going to take the most time because that’s where to focus if you need to get creative with the delivery dates.
The critical path route also has advantages. Again, there is no hard and fast rule to what is better; it comes down to what you would prefer to use and the scheduling and control processes that have been chosen.
3. Level of Effort
Level of Effort (LOE) activities are those that are required for the management of the project but that are not linked to a specific deliverable. For example, the project management effort, or the risk management effort. This work still has to be done, but does not fit neatly into the WBS as a task that can be monitored by the progress made towards the deliverable.
Primavera P6 Professional allows for the creation of LOE activities across the whole project. The good thing about the Primavera approach is that the LOE activity progress is automatically accounted for and ‘called off’ as the project moves forward. If a schedule activity changes duration, the associated LOE activity is also adjusted accordingly.
You can create administrative tasks in Microsoft Project but they aren’t true LOE activities. Instead, they work as ‘hammock’ activities: work strung between two points. They do not automatically update with progress reflecting the related tasks either.
If you feel that the admin overhead of manually updating hammock activities in Microsoft Project is an overhead too far, then Primavera P6 has more advanced functionality. However, if LOE tasks are not a huge concern for your schedulers, the work is simply about making sure the effort is recorded somehow.
Read more about creating LOE tasks in Microsoft Project.
Read more about creating LOE tasks in Primavera P6.
Milestones are like markers along the routeway of your project. There are several different milestone types. This is where the difference between Microsoft Project and Primavera P6 appears: they have different milestone types.
In short, Primavera P6 Professional lets you take milestones that step further because it allows you to categorize milestones as start or finish. This can be helpful if you want to filter to see the start points or due dates for a particular chunk of your schedule.
Microsoft Project doesn’t provide that functionality, but that might not be an issue for you. You often don’t know what you are missing if you’ve never used it!
Both scheduling tools allow you to record a project budget amount against activities, but they do it in slightly different ways. In particular, Primavera P6 Professional has the ability to note down the budgeted material cost whereas Microsoft Project does not. This field is useful if your tasks require materials, which is, of course, common for engineering and construction schedules.
If you are already swaying towards Microsoft Project, fear not: a macro will help you fill the gap and show the figures.
Primavera P6 vs Microsoft Project: Conclusion
This article has only scratched the surface of what these tools can do. There are loads more features and differences to explore, such as multiple float path analysis and steps, and plenty of other considerations such as the maturity of your PMO, the requirements of your clients and more.
There’s no hard and fast rule as to which product is better, but hopefully this article has shown you the value of truly understanding the products before making the choice as the nuances and details can make all the difference.