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Primavera Scheduling

The Future of Scheduling Software

Primavera Scheduling

Recently I read a blog by someone claiming that Primavera P6 will eventually disappear because there are much better scheduling programs now available. This is a great way to get people to read your blog, I suppose, but there is absolutely no reason to believe that Primavera P6 is a dinosaur happily living its life until some giant meteor program wipes it off the face of the Earth.

To begin with, none of us can accurately predict the future. There are the "unknown unkowns" (as popularized by former Wall Street trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book, Black Swan) that are impossible to predict because we cannot even imagine that such a thing could happen. Might as well flip a coin to determine whether a program like P6 will survive because the results will be just as accurate.

Change is inevitable. I entered high school in 1974. My class was the first one not to learn how to use a mechanical slide rule, because hand-held calculators were becoming readily available. By the time I graduated in 1977 my calculus instructor had introduced us to a primitive desktop computer with a keyboard and no screen. When I graduated from college we were scheduling projects using a mainframe computer.

In 1983, Primavera Systems released its eponymous scheduling program, Primavera Project Planner (P3). Microsoft Project was released the following year. Microsoft does not like competition, to put it mildly. Here is just one example. Like many people, I used Netscape Navigator in the early days of the World Wide Web. Navigator was pretty cheap - I recall paying about $35 for the "Gold" version.

But when Microsoft released Windows 98 they included Internet Explorer for free. Internet Explorer was clunky compared to Navigator, but hey, free is hard to resist. Bye bye Navigator! (The irony is that Netscape Navigator started out as a free program to encourage its adoption, not unlike what Microsoft was doing).

My first spreadsheet program was VisiCalc. But unless you are over the age of 50 it won't ring a bell. Microsoft destroyed that product as well with Excel. Lotus 123 and Lotus Symphony were no match for Microsoft either.

So imagine you are little ol' Primavera Systems facing down the biggest software company in the world. Props for surviving even a few years! Granted, P3 was clearly a more robust scheduling program, but Microsoft Project was much cheaper. And it is not like P3 had a big head start. In the early days it would have been very tempting to just buy Microsoft Project.

Luckily, the consulting firm I was working for in the 1980s decided to buy P3 instead. It may have had something to do with the fact that Primavera's headquarters were right across the river from our offices. But the reality is that even back then it was not a two-horse race, and our firm did consider other alternatives before picking P3. We even hedged our bets by investing in an early competitor of Primavera.

Primavera has always had competition and responded accordingly. I still hear from Primavera users who pine for the days of P3. Really? I used P3 for nearly 20 years, starting with the DOS version and then Windows. It was like an old friend, my bread and butter scheduling program. But when Primavera P6 came along I kicked P3 to the curb and never looked back.

Oh sure, I griped a little during the transition to P6. It was different and required a learning curve. And when I was really busy that was sometimes annoying. I just wanted to get my work done! I am sure that most of us feel that way about technology, that sometimes change is not necessarily an improvement (Windows 8 comes to mind).

The thing is, P6 is better than P3 - demonstrably so. I became interested in selling P6 software several years ago for the simple reason that I was convinced it was much better than P3 and would become the new standard for scheduling software. It is ironic that people criticize P6 for both doing too much and too little. "I don't need all these features", some will say, while others will ask for more features. Oracle must think we are neurotic, or perhaps ungrateful.

Is P6 too complicated? Not really (pause for chuckles). Okay, so there is a lot going on with this software. I use about 70% of the features on a daily basis, which is why I have never really taught everything there is in P6. If someone like me, a professional scheduler for 33 years, cannot find reason to use some of these features I am pretty confident that most other users do not need them either.

Nevertheless, I mostly schedule construction projects. Primavera P6 was not developed for just one industry, and it certainly would not make much sense that software companies are going to develop scheduling software specific to each industry. There is one exception: linear construction such as tunneling projects does have its own standard-bearer, TILOS. This program schedules work based on time and location. P6 cannot match that.

I look at P6 the same way I looked at my first sportbike. Back in 1995 I purchased the most powerful 600cc motorcycle in the world: the Kawasaki Ninja. It was capable of a top speed of 155 MPH, which was serious velocity for an engine of that size. Redline was 14,500 RPM! Formula One race cars costing tens of millions of dollars were only reving to 16,000 RPM at the time.

Did I need that sort of performance? Obviously not. But if my bike was that good I knew the only limitation would be my skills. The bike would never let me down. The software will do more than I need it to, and that is the way it should be. Raise your hand if you use every feature in Microsoft Excel. My point exactly.

Last week I demonstrated to a manufacturer how to schedule and resource level one of their typical projects where the minimum duration for a task is two minutes and the maximum duration is only two and a half hours. That is not a level of detail I would ever see in a construction schedule. I don't schedule down to the minute of the day. But P6 can do that for people who do.

To those who believe that P6 has become stagnant, I would point out that Oracle has made 97 significant improvements since taking over Primavera Systems. How do I know this? Oracle has something called the Cumulative Feature Overview Tool. Enter the version of Primavera P6 you are currently using and the version you are thinking of upgrading to, and this tool explains what improvements have been made.

Getting back to the so-called demise of Primavera P6, I have a pretty good idea which program the author thought was the future of scheduling software. And like many of Primavera's competitors it is more expensive. In this case, you cannot just buy the scheduling module. Instead, you are buying an entire suite of programs related to planning, budgeting, cost and document control. So it is a little ironic this competitor would have the tag line, "Features Only Matter If They Get Used."

Sure, Primavera P6 can be integrated with other Oracle (and non-Oracle) programs, but it can also function as a standalone program. Many of my customers already have document control, estimating and other software. They just need a scheduling program, not a complete overhaul of their computing system.

Other competitors offer standalone scheduling programs, and I am certainly not going to debate the merits of each one here. I know my clients pretty well, and I do not believe they would feel insulted if I stated that I am better at scheduling than they are. After all, I have more than three decades of experience and I still work with this software every single day. I know what they need from a scheduling program. So here is my advice:

"Primavera P6 is your Ninja sportbike. Twist the throttle as much as you want. Fast or slow, it will take good care of you."

Software is a bit like evolution. The winners either adapt or die. Programs such as VisiCalc and Lotus 123 that were among the first to market did not last very long once competition arrived. Primavera has had competition since 1984. That is not to say that other products won't continue to steal some of Primavera's market share, but if it's my money that I'm playing with I will continue to put it on a winner. And Primavera is on a winning streak that has lasted more than 30 years.