Time is money – essential time management software in a project: Primavera or MS Project?

Asking a scheduler on his preferred scheduling software and talking to the IT department on which software they can get will ultimatively lead to the old question: MS Project vs. Primavera (not as old as Nikon vs. Canon, yet nevertheless dividing). Whereas in 2003 the answer was a simple “P3”, nowadays Microsoft has learnt a lot and upgraded their Microsoft Project software to match Primavera, also in terms of resource management.

However as a project manager a decision has to be made upon what is required and what is best suitable to thrive your project!

Both softwares are boosting with additional features and add-ons that allow your schedule to not only be resource-loaden, but also cost-loaden and linked up to SAP to automatically collect costs and map them to progress of your works. As promising as these features sound, as complicated they can be in execution… and as unnecessary. The essentials of a time schedule is plainly this: a time schedule, a graphical or tabular representation of the major works comprising your project. And with any given project: it is different from the last one. Had you had to build 400 kilometers of highway today, it is the retrofitting of a high-rising building tomorrow. The one project gives you a free-hand in on-site matters, in the other you are dependent on precious night shift hours between regular maintenance activities.

Hence before setting out to buying the software, training a dozen of your project members and establishing complicated report and update process, think twice and evaluate what will best serve your project. In any case the following is to be a must have:

  • A baseline time schedule – to be agreed with your team and your customer (see Baselining)
  • An updatable and adaptable schedule that can be compared to your baseline
That’s it! That is the basis of your time scheduling: a working schedule. Something out of which you see the dependencies, the important milestones, the progress of the works, the potential float and the critical path. (see potential float / Critical Path) Everything else is add-on and nice-to-have, expecially because in most companies such features are already implemented and available. E.g. resource management, i.e. the distribution of man power (either in roles or in names) to activities is often done already during assignment by the line management and if you don’t have a project environment in which one person can simultaneously work at various project locations (e.g. IT software developer) then anyway a person gets assigned to your project for a period of time (e.g. site supervisor, technician, mechanist, etc.).
As per my experience it is better to ensure that the project schedule is up-to-date and cross-reviewed by the project manager on a regular level then that a constant tool-required updating of resource information is taking up too much time for line managers and the scheduler. Even worse, the more features are to be included the more lengthy regular update meetings get and the more time is used to feed the scheduling tool. Concentrate on the core, establish easy to follow progress reportings and status updates and ensure that your scheduler has enough time to join you as the project manager in essential meetings (e.g. incorporation of major contract variations, such as extension of time, extension of site, etc.).
Back to the topic above, there is no major difference in the use of either software, however for most project schedulers I assume Primavera to be the more convenient and more known tool.
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