Primavera P6 will save you a boat-load of time while building a schedule if you know where to look. And since one of my most recent training clients actually builds commercial boats I suppose the analogy is even more appropriate for them! While there are also several time-saving tricks for updating a schedule, today I am going to focus on the building of a brand new schedule. Here are my top five favorite P6 tricks:
If we think of the entire schedule as being a network diagram then a fragnet is a sub-network. A fragnet may be just a few activities, or dozens. Traditionally we develop fragnets for two reasons: (1) to represent additional work that is not part of the original scope, or (2) to represent repetitive work in the original scope. In the baseline schedule the latter example is how we save time.
I have not truly built a baseline schedule from scratch for quite a few years because I am always copying part of the logic. The first floor logic is copied and used as the basis for the second floor. The northbound lanes are copied and used as the basis for the southbound lanes. Besides just copying a bunch of activities, however, we also need to consider how the Activity IDs can save us time.
P6 really wants us to use prefixes in our Activity IDs. In the Project Default settings we cannot leave the prefix for new activities blank, and why would we? Copying activities without the ability to assign new prefixes would frankly not be much fun. Let’s say that Activity ID FLR1_1000 is layout on the first floor of the building. When this activity is copied for the second floor the new prefix (FLR2) tells us the location while the original suffix (1000) indicates the type of work.
Nearly always my prefixes are based on locations. I want the submittals to have the same prefix, the Stage 1 activities to have the same prefix, and so forth. Some schedulers use the prefix to indicate the type of work, but when I am adding relationships I want the activities in the same location to have the same prefix. Most of my activity relationships will be defined by proximity, not the type of work.
As an alternative, we can copy an entire section of the Work Breakdown System and paste it elsewhere. This has the added benefit of creating a new section in the WBS for the new activities while they are being pasted.
Before copying the activities it would behoove us to make sure the durations and logic are complete so that we can also copy this information as well. In most situations I do want to replicate the durations and logic. Any changes will likely be fairly minor.
The first step is to highlight the activities that are being copied and then paste them. I don’t worry too much about where they should be pasted right away. I may need to create a new WBS or Activity Code for the copied activities so that they stay grouped together.
In the screen shots below you can see what activity information I have chosen to copy and the new prefix I have selected for the Activity IDs:
2. Fill Down
There is no way I could live without Fill Down. It is so awesome! When we try to copy a value in P6 (such as a duration or a budget) the entire row is copied – that is to say, the activity is duplicated. Which is what I just discussed previously. Fill Down, on the other hand, allows us to copy a single value from one activity to another (or several). Here are just a few of the data fields that Fill Down can copy:
- Activity Code
- Activity Name
- Activity Type
- Budgeted Units
- Budgeted Cost
- Percent Complete Type
- Primary Resource
- WBS Code
The first step is to highlight the data field that should be copied and highlight the cells below using the Shift key on the keyboard. Then right-click and select Fill Down from the menu.
But what if we are trying to copy a data field to an activity that is above the current one. Guess what? Fill Down can fill up! All we have to do is use the Ctrl key on the keyboard rather than the Shift key. The Ctrl key also allows us to select non-adjacent cells – something that is not possible when using the Shift key.
In the screen shot below I am replacing the 5-Day calendar with the 5 Day with Holidays calendar:
3. Link Activities
Probably 80% or more of my activity relationships will be Finish to Start in a typical baseline schedule. Because of this, it is faster to make everything Finish to Start and then go back and change the ones that should be something else. This is called managing by exception and it is a huge time-saver. The alternative is to work on one relationship at a time and I have better things to do, such as drink wine and eat chocolate.
Like Fill Down, if we highlight the activities with the Shift key, Finish to Start relationships are added starting from the top row and working down. But if we use the Ctrl key to highlight the activities, the order in which we select the activities becomes the sequence. Regardless, the relationships being added are Finish to Start.
A lot of schedulers seem reluctant to use Finish to Start relationships but it is the most conservative way to schedule work. The more we overlap activities the more resources that are required. In theory, we can “beat” a schedule that primarily uses Finish to Start relationships. An overly aggressive baseline schedule built mostly on overlapping relationships has no fat to trim should we find ourselves behind schedule and not have anyone else to blame.
Grouping is very important when linking activities. It is much easier to select multiple activities when they are somewhat close together. This can be accomplished by giving them the same Activity Code, WBS Code or even the same Activity ID prefix. There are many times when I have not yet “coded” my activities but by sorting on the Activity ID column, the related activities align themselves perfectly.
In the screenshot below I have selected a group of activities to be linked. Since I used the Shift key it does not matter if I highlight them from the top-down or the bottom-up. The result is the same – P6 adds Finish to Start relationships starting at the top.
4. Assign the Same Predecessor or Successor to Multiple Activities
There are times when we want to assign the same predecessor or successor to several activities. For example, all submittals can typically start right after the Notice to Proceed so they share the same predecessor. In my larger schedules I often have a hundred or more submittals that need a predecessor. Sure, I could link Notice to Proceed to one submittal at a time, but remember what I said about wine and chocolate?
5. Schedule Automatically When A Change Affects Dates
While linking activities it only makes sense to let P6 calculate the activity dates each time we add or modify logic. Even changing the duration of a single activity with no predecessors or successors will trigger the calculation since the Finish date of the modified activity is obviously a little different than before. There is no excuse for submitting a baseline schedule that has not been calculated, yet many users forget to do this one last time after making a few last-minute tweaks.
In case you do not know where to find this setting, I have included a screenshot below. Note that the fourth box from the top is now checked:
What are your favorite Primavera P6 tricks? Please email me.