The King is Dead. Long Live the King.

By Donald Kaplan, CCC, PSP

The construction scheduling world is experiencing a not-so-subtle nudge from one of its major software players. As of the end of 2010, Oracle has stopped making Primavera P3 Project Planner and Primavera SureTrak available for sale. For an entire generation of construction professionals, this is an upsetting turn of events. Although we will continue to see these products in frequent use for the foreseeable future, the industry standards for critical path method (CPM) scheduling software are certainly going to evolve significantly in the short term. Instead of resisting, this should be seen as an opportunity to embrace new options and increase exposure to new project management alternatives.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the 1st Annual Construction CPM Conference in Orlando, FL. The focus was on the leading analyses and software solutions available to stakeholders to ensure the timely completion of their construction projects. Based on the wide range of risk managers, contractors, litigation professionals and consultants in attendance, it is clear that the construction community is asking for more from their software solutions than P3 or SureTrak could ever provide. As a result, the success of newer programs such as Primavera P6 Professional Project Management (P6) was frequently the focus of the conference case studies. In fact, P6 is increasingly becoming the software of choice for federal, state, and local government agencies, as well as leading Construction Managers (CM).

Transition from Old to New

Over the last few years, we have seen dramatic increases in the required use of P6, both in our active scheduling work, as well as the forensic analysis of delays and disruptions on construction claims. We believe this trend will inevitably continue, led by larger players in the industry, which will have a trickle-down effect on the industry at-large. Of course, the transition from P3 to the Project Management module within P6 will have unique ramifications on contractors who are developing logical schedules, owners and CM’s who are evaluating those schedules in the context of the contract, and schedule experts and litigators who will potentially evaluate and argue impacts to the schedule. Below is a list of items for consideration as you transition from P3 to the new industry standard of P6:

1) It’s not always good to share.

If as a general contractor you need to manage many engineering and construction projects with shared resources, then the promise of comprehensive, organization-wide data is alluring. P6 is in fact built to support that type of user experience. But as a schedule consultant or attorney, you may be asked to review contemporaneous schedules from different clients, on wide-ranging types of unrelated projects. These could be projects with entirely different Work Breakdown Structures, Activity Coding, Cost or Resource Loading, and Work Calendars. By utilizing separate databases for each client and project, we ensure the integrity of the native project schedule data (by minimizing the risk of overwriting, duplicating or changing the schedule data) and maintain the reliability of the CPM schedules.

2) Keep everything in order.

The Enterprise Project Structure or EPS, a new feature of P6, allows for the hierarchical organization of the projects and subprojects one is trying to manage. The EPS may be used to represent iterations of a project schedule, such as the monthly schedule updates, or to differentiate between project phases. A well-organized EPS allows for meaningful data summaries, the ability to do targeted backups of individual schedules, and to keep accurate file inventories.

3) Convert with care.

Importing a P3 schedule into P6 is relatively easy and most data is converted without any issue. Unfortunately, layouts and filters, financial periods and past period actual data are amongst a handful of data that is lost during the conversion process. It is always important to status a schedule after the import and verify it against the original file for any errors.

4) It’s hard to go back.

More importantly, importing from P6 into P3 is a losing proposition due to the more robust P6 database, and should only be performed when one is certain that their schedule will not be adversely affected. Problems exist with calendar conversion, a whole host of data that cannot be converted, as well as data truncation issues. One must be certain that the schedule information that is being communicated is consistent from computer to computer or from person to person.

At its core, a CPM schedule is an invaluable tool for use in the execution of a project and, to be honest, the last thing one wants is the software to get in the way. The reality is that the transition from P3 to P6 is not without growing pains, as we have learned in our implementation of the software. P6 is fundamentally different in that it allows for the management of multiple projects with shared resources at the enterprise level, unlike P3, which is a single-project, single user environment.

For as much as the new version of Primavera differs from our old standby, P3, it still very much resembles the software that has dominated the industry for a couple of decades, with its simple and effective reporting power. As the adoption rate increases, it will be hard for contractors and consultants alike to steer clear of the new standard much longer. Of course, legacy products are not going to disappear overnight, so the goal is to be adaptable. Familiarize yourself with new options and be conversant in the evolving CPM scheduling landscape.

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