How to run projects the Primavera 6 way

Organisations running large-scale projects are increasingly turning to Primavera 6 (P6) as their planning tool. Some realise it can open up new insights into whether projects are really delivering what they’re supposed to. Others are thinking about investing because their government clients would prefer them to. Whichever camp you’re in, it’s vital you know that bringing in P6 is more than just buying a piece of IT.

P6 links up with other Oracle finance, risk and analytical products. And that can give you what the trade calls earned value management. It can show you, in unprecedented detail, whether projects will come in over or under-budget, for example. And that could mean you ultimately use less resources and get more consistent results. But to get that benefit, you might well have to rethink your whole approach to managing projects. That includes the people you pick to control them, the governance and control processes you use, and the data you gather. And when you adopt P6, you’ll need to plan carefully to give yourself the best chance of success.

So how do you get the most out of P6 and avoid the pitfalls? Our experience tells us there are six ways.

Choose your users carefully – and train them

P6 users have to know exactly what they’re doing because if they don’t it could be a recipe for chaos. P6 is highly configurable and reasonably complex, with many windows and layouts to master. Also, schedules on P6 aren’t standalone files that project teams can store away and pull out when they need them. The data is in a live database. Any changes are auditable, but permanent. So the uninitiated (or the malicious) could quickly and easily cause havoc. Ultimately, anyone who can work on a schedule can destroy its integrity. You can head off this risk by controlling access and permissions. But proper training and support will be vital to protect the live environment.

Pick the right project controllers

To get a return on your P6 investment, you’ll need a particular kind of highly skilled project controller. Many project managers might link a list of activities in MS Project (the most common scheduling software) and put in timescales. They might then set a baseline, and report on progress by estimating the percentage left to complete on each activity. Some might also do a schedule risk analysis. But very few go on to load resources and costs against tasks to really understand how a project is performing at any time, and how it will go on to perform. Yet this is the whole point of P6. It lets you report in detail on budget, risk and cost.

So P6 calls for a more rigorous, controlled and potentially more bureaucratic approach to managing programmes, projects and portfolios. Where before, project managers and teams had wriggle room that could effectively obscure reporting of real performance, P6 demands total rigour. So whoever manages the schedule needs to:

  • understand the P6 environment in depth
  • know what drives consistent reporting in your organisation
  • have attention to detail.

The right skills to get the most out of P6 can be hard to find in the UK. Along the way to building your own capability, you might need outside help.

Look wider than IT in your planning

Implementing P6 is partly an IT challenge. Your network has to have enough capacity, your desktops have to have enough memory, and so on. But it’s also a wider development challenge.

P6 needs a lot of rigorous project control. We’ve found it typically adds about 10% to teams’ workload as it beds in. It could be years before all the benefits kick in. How big those benefits are, and how long they take to appear, will depend on the early decisions you take about system set-up, conventions and processes.

Everything from how finance handles accruals to how Human Resources (HR) calculates pay and benefits has a bearing on what P6 tells you about earned value. So you need to set up P6 to reflect the organisation breakdown structure (OBS). The same goes for the enterprise project structure (EPS) that project teams operate within to set up their own work breakdown structure (WBS). For users, OBS and EPS are rigidly set in P6, and they’ll affect key things like access permissions and reporting lines. So to set them up, you need to know how the organisation runs projects and how its different parts work together. Clearly, that’s not just an IT job. Stakeholders from around the business will need to agree these structures.

You’ll need joined-up thinking across project, finance, HR and security departments. That’s because you’ll need to load activities with roles and resources – who does what, how many days a week and for what hourly rate. Are you charging them out directly or indirectly? Are there overheads? Who sees what in P6? What are the GDPR implications? Again, it’s more than a technology project.

Get everyone thinking the same way about governance

The kind of tool that P6 is means the organisation needs a shared view of how it controls and governs at the project, programme and portfolio level. You’ll need to roll P6 out with processes and training ready to go to prevent configuration option chaos. It won’t be enough to have the tool replicate how you did scheduling before. You’ll need to change how you do scheduling to be able to use its features and get the benefits. You might well need P6 experts to help you develop this thinking and coach teams as they get used to it.

Get the data right

P6 can give you accurate information on your performance, costs and budget, what resources you need and how you’re using them. But only with the right kind of data. So think about:

Estimating – for accurate estimating, use consistent processes across the organisation. Benchmarks and service catalogues can help you get a consistent idea of the time and resources you need for particular activities.

Time cards – to find out what resources you’re actually using, you need time card reporting in line with the WBS that’s captured in P6. You can run this from another Oracle product if integration suits you. But if staff aren’t used to it, they’ll need help with issues like understanding what activities to book to projects, and which to treat as overheads.

Reporting ‘drumbeat’ – getting a true picture of how you’re performing means projects have to confirm their status and progress to a strict reporting timetable. Only when you’ve standardised this across the business will reporting deliver what you need to get value for your P6 investment.

Financial data – you’ll need to link financial accruals and progress on schedules. To report performance accurately, teams will need rules on how to apply charges for their projects and how to capture financial information in line with schedule progress.

Support your teams

There will be a lot for teams to learn as you move to P6. It could take months before everyone is using the new tools and processes in a reliable and consistent way. Senior management will need to back them as they learn, and allow for them to do that alongside business as usual.

P6 could be right for you if you want rigorous control of your projects, and want to see how your costs link to the work you’ve done. The same is true if you want to be able to quickly understand the impact of change, and current and future demand.

But, just as you can only build a house with proper foundations, you can only make P6 work for you if you do the right planning. And, as our Professional Services team will tell you, that also means putting the right processes in place and picking the right people to run them.

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