In the scheduling and project management world, there are plenty of opinions regarding which scheduling software is better in general, or a better fit for specific situations. If you are considering which software to invest in, Primavera P6 or Microsoft Project (MSP), you can find numerous articles and forums online to help guide your decision.
Schedulers tend to choose Primavera P6 claiming it is the only program for scheduling larger or more complex projects and often claim MSP is only a graphic tool. Many Project Managers and Superintendents will tell you they find Primavera P6 tool complex, too expensive, too time intensive to make a schedule. There are some organizations that need or end up buying both platforms. Let ProjectControls.online (PC.o) level the playing field and make working with whatever scheduling software you have work for you.
At ProjectControls.online (PC.o), we have noticed that most people are not trying to decide which software to buy; they are trying to figure out how to make the one they have work. Schedulers are trying to integrate different schedule types to roll them up in a program schedule or convert an MSP schedule they got from a Project Manager to P6. Superintendents are trying to make 3-week look ahead schedules that do not conflict with the master schedule. In this series, we show how PC.o can help strengthen the weaknesses of both P6 and MSP. To start, we’ll begin this week with Managing MS Project Baselines.
A Baseline Schedule is one of the most important project documents, establishing the basis for progress tracking and performance measurement. The Baseline outlines the project execution strategy, the work breakdown structure, activity planned dates and durations, and key project milestones. At its essence, the Baseline Schedule is a snapshot of the project just before execution. Recognizing its importance and that sometimes the plan changes, MSP supports the storing and management of 11 baselines within one MSP file. So, how does it fall short?
A Partial Snapshot
Baselines are created by telling MSP to store the current schedule as a snapshot in time, as shown in the figure below. This can be done at the beginning of a project or at any point in its execution.
However, this is only a partial snapshot. When MSP stores the baseline, it only stores early dates, durations, work, and cost data. The snapshot does not store logic (i.e. predecessors, successors, and relationship types), float, or activity constraints. Moreover, the partial snapshot does not store CPM late dates; therefore, variances and earned value can only be measured against early dates. Essentially, MSP is just storing a few pieces of schedule information, not the entire, original baseline schedule. So little information is stored that you cannot recreate the data into a fully functional schedule again. The original Baseline Schedule (unless otherwise copied and saved) is lost.
For reference, these are the data fields that MS Project stores for each baseline.
|Baseline Start||Baseline Cost||Baseline Work|
|Baseline Finish||Baseline Budget Cost||Baseline Budget Work|
|Baseline Duration||Baseline Fixed Cost|
|Baseline Estimated Start||Baseline Accrual Cost|
|Baseline Estimated Finish|
|Baseline Estimated Duration|
|Baseline Deliverable Start|
|Baseline Deliverable Finish|
Timing is Everything
In MSP, all baselines and interim plans are stored within the MSP file where the current schedule is being managed and updated. You cannot import or export a baseline. If you want a schedule snapshot to be stored in MSP, you have one chance to do so. Even if you copied a schedule (i.e. saved the original baseline as a separate file), you cannot import and assign that snapshot to the active schedule file. Once a desired snapshot in time has been past (even if copied), there is no easy way to use MSP as the tool to visualize, compare, and analyze the differences between the active schedule and that snapshot.
Some All-Too-Common Situations
1 | Forget to Set
The scheduler built the project schedule with input from project stakeholders. At a certain point, the project manager and scheduler decide the Baseline Schedule is complete. So, the scheduler saves a copy and starts updating the schedule. Oops! The scheduler forgot to set the baseline in MSP. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, timing is everything; there’s no easy way to go back. Of course, there are workarounds or rework, but this is not the only situation where a baseline in MSP can be a problem.
2 | Comparing Updates
Schedule best management practices advise the scheduler to save every complete schedule update, to document progress and evolving project plans. To compare the active schedule to any previous update requires these snapshots to be set as baselines in MSP. No problem…unless you have more than 11 combined baselines and updates. MSP’s limitations for storing baselines and updates significantly restricts the use of MSP for schedule comparisons.
3 | Time Impact Analyses (TIAs)
Storing updates is also an essential component of time impact analyses. In good practice, copies of the project schedule file are saved after significant changes to the schedule and progress updates. This creates snapshots of the project should schedule impact analyses be warranted. TIAs often require the comparison of impacted schedules to the baseline or to previous schedule updates before the impact occurred. This comparison, in other software, can be made by assigning schedule snapshots as baselines, in order to calculate variances. Unfortunately, if you did not set a certain schedule snapshot as a baseline in MSP or ran out of available baselines to set, you cannot perform the analysis within the software: a third-party tool would be required.
4 | Re-Baseline
A project’s Baseline Schedule must be completely defined and documented before the project execution and control activities can begin. Once the project starts, the baseline is put under change control to help you evaluate any further change and its impact on the project. On some projects, the Owner or Contractor may want to re-baseline the project schedule after a notable change in the project scope or after a significant impact, like COVID-19 work stoppages. One method of re-baselining is to insert the changes into the original Baseline Schedule to determine a revised project completion. Unfortunately, In MSP, you cannot create a new Baseline Schedule from the original file and assign it to the updated progress schedule.
There are too many great advantages of MSP to change software just to manage project baselines more efficiently and support TIA work. Besides, often an employee or schedule user does not have the option to change scheduling software for the organization or the time to convert schedules; they have to figure out how to make it work. We built ProjectControls.online to solve some of the common grievances we have with P6 and MSP, including managing MS Project baselines.
ProjectControls.online allows you to
- upload any number of MSP files;
- view and share these schedules online, without needing a scheduling software;
- assign any uploaded schedule as a baseline to any other schedule;
- analyze any schedule, compare schedules against each other, or monitor trends across many; and
- export to directly MS Excel or convert to Primavera P6.
If you’d like to learn more about how to use PC.o to make MS Project and Primavera P6 work better for you, check out our video tutorials on YouTube, request a demo, or leave us a question in the comment section.