We are often asked which is better: Oracle Primavera P6 or Microsoft Project.
That’s a hard question to answer because companies adopt both tools for different reasons and to serve different purposes – even though they are both known as professional, enterprise project management scheduling tools.
How you are going to use them, what your company considers important features, what you currently have as a tech stack in the organization and many more areas should be considered as you make your choice. So, Primavera P6 or Microsoft Project? Here are some of the key differences and considerations.
Infrastructure and integrations
Primavera P6 comes from the Oracle family of products, which means it should (in theory, at least) integrate smoothly with other Oracle tools. If your business has other Oracle products in place, Primavera would be a good fit for your existing IT estate and make the integrations and data flows easier to implement.
Microsoft Project is – unsurprisingly – part of the Microsoft family so it will work well with other Microsoft products like Teams and the Office suite. Interoperability should make it easy enough to take data out of those other tools and pop it into MS Project should you ever need to. There are several different options for implementing Microsoft Project, from standalone (personal use) to Project Server, which is an on-premise solution for portfolio management.
Ease of use
In our experience, once you have been through Primavera P6 training, you will have the basics to be able to drive Primavera and use it for scheduling. It does, however, take a while to become truly proficient, especially if you work on large scale engineering and construction projects where the team relies heavily on accurate scheduling – the kind of projects that have a dedicated Project Scheduler or two on the team.
Complex projects need a complex solution, and as you decide which is better for you, weigh up how easy it will be to use the system once it is implemented.
Having spent many years using both project management software tools, our team would probably say that Primavera has more advanced features than Microsoft Project. It is software that has many options, such as multiple baselines, multiple activity relationships for single tasks, activity identifiers and a wide range of options for tracking and recording costs.
However, we also see clients who do not use the full range of Primavera features, and in our training courses, we focus on the features that clients need to know. Primavera is feature-rich, but if you don’t have a reason to use those features, then the tool can feel overpowered for what you need it to do.
Earned value management
Primavera feels like more of a natural fit for projects using earned value management systems. It’s easy to create a work breakdown structure and the resourcing and cost features are powerful enough to allow you to stay on top of the data required for accurate reporting.
You can use Microsoft Project for earned value analysis, and the built-in reports make that very easy. As with any tool, you will have to configure it to display the information in the right way: garbage in, garbage out, as the saying goes. You’ll have to set a baseline and make sure status dates (for example, the last working day of the month). From there, you can optionally allow MS Project to calculate the percent complete based on data from task tracking, or you can choose to manually enter the percent complete for each activity.
Both tools need a properly-created project schedule, and the processes that underpin earned value analysis to ensure that the data produced helps the project manager lead and monitor the work.
Team and users
Who is going to be ‘driving’ the system? That could help you determine which solution is going to be the best for you. Generally, the more the system is used, the larger the number of users, the more features are used and the more the company relies on the system, the more likely it is that you will need a dedicated system admin to help maintain user access, set it up and support the use of the product.
Are users involved in a single project, or do they need access to many, interrelated project plans? It’s worth having a clear view of what your requirements are and how you expect the product to be used before making your choice.
Another consideration is how many people need to access project data at any time. Primavera gives you the option of having several users who can access the project, and the system controls the features that they have access to. This should make it possible for you to configure the environment so that your schedulers and project managers can all be in the plan at the same time. This is not so easy in Microsoft Project and some of the software versions will only allow one person to access the file at any time.
Making your choice
As scheduling software goes, both tools are perfectly capable of managing large scale initiatives and being used in a mature project management environment. Both support a predictive project management methodology which is the staple of many a construction project or engineering initiative. Both tools are powerful software applications that can manage portfolio reporting and resource allocation across multiple projects, and can also be used for creating project schedules for standalone pieces of work.
There is no ‘better’. Primavera P6 software and Microsoft Project are both good tools for project teams, especially those teams that are managing challenging projects with complex activity.
Sometimes we see companies using them both, for different reasons. Perhaps there is a good reason why one division sticks with Microsoft Project and another uses Primavera. While we would advocate standardizing onto one solution simply to minimize license costs and make maintenance easier, there can be a solid justification for not doing so.
Consider what you want to be doing with your software and which tools helps you best meet those goals. We work with both, convert between them often, and don’t have a preference!