The core concepts of project scheduling were laid down in the years following World War II, as construction projects in the United States became larger and more complex. By the 1960s, these concepts were being implemented in mainframe computers by such entities as DuPont, IBM, and the U.S. military.
In 1983, Joel Koppelman and Dick Faris founded Primavera Systems in Philadelphia. Their vision was that these same principles of project management could be implemented on desktop PCs, which were then just making their way into common use. The first product went on sale in 1983, available on a set of 5¼-inch floppy disks that held a whopping 360 KB of data each. The application required 256 KB of RAM to run, which was quite a lot at the time.
And so Primavera Project Planner (P3) was born. The company was quite successful and eventually P3 became the leading scheduling product in the engineering and construction industries. In fact, it soon became a requirement for certain government contracts that schedules could only be delivered in a P3-compatible format.
In the late 1990s, with the rise of networks and the Internet, it became clear that the future of project scheduling software lay beyond a single product installed on one person's desktop. Instead, project scheduling was moving towards systems that could be accessed simultaneously by multiple people in different locations.
In 1999, Primavera acquired Eagle Ray Software. This company had created a product in 1998 called Eagle Ray 1000 Project Management Suite. Primavera took ER1000 and released it as two products in 1999: P3 e/c, which was marketed for Engineering and Construction, and TeamPlay for IT and Financial services. Over the years, the products have appeared to merge and diverge, adding capabilities such as timesheet entry, integration, and portfolio analysis, eventually evolving into what is now called P6. In 2004, Primavera 5.0 was released, and in 2007, P6.0 was released, followed by P6.2 in 2008.
In 2008, another major change occurred. Primavera, a privately held company, was bought by Oracle, a publicly held corporation.
In 2008, soon after P6.2 came out, it was announced that Oracle Corporation was buying Primavera. Starting as a database provider in 1979, Oracle had grown over the years into a large and influential company, focused not only on databases, but on providing an array of software products that are fundamental to managing modern businesses. This array included enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, content management systems, analytical and reporting systems, and application servers and technology, to describe just a few. In order to ensure that they also owned the best-of-breed in project scheduling software, Oracle acquired Primavera Systems in 2008.
Since the acquisition, P6 has undergone a number of changes. First, the various names were consolidated into one: P6. Oracle also spent considerable resources improving and adding to the product. For example, P6 now supports a standards-compliant Web Services API; it can run from a cluster of WebLogic or WebSphere application servers; and the full capabilities of the system are now available through a web browser.
P3 and SureTrak
Some users may confuse P3 and SureTrak with P6. P3 is the heir to the original Primavera Project Planner product. It is a standalone desktop application. SureTrak was a lighter version of P3 designed for users with simpler requirements, and so had a limit on the number of activities it would support. Both products have reached the end of their life cycles, and sales of P3 and SureTrak officially ended on December 31st, 2010.
Yet this is not the end of the standalone desktop client. With P6 version 8.1, a true standalone version of P6 was created, finally closing the gap that sprang open in 1999 when Primavera bought Eagle Ray, and set separate tracks for its desktop and enterprise solutions. Now users can have the power of P6 on their laptop with P6 Professional, or deploy P6 Enterprise and gain the additional benefits of enterprise-wide capabilities. P6 release 8.2 allows these two products to work even better together.
What's in the name?
The product that we all know as P6 is officially named Oracle Primavera P6 Enterprise Project Portfolio Management, which is quite a mouthful. But the name accurately reflects the scope and purpose of the software:
- Enterprise: Unlike P3, which was a standalone application designed to be used by a single user on a dedicated machine, P6 is designed to facilitate multiple users across a large organization. It is a true multi-tier system, with a database on the back end, an application server in the middle, and a web server to which users can connect through an internet browser client such as Microsoft Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox. This means that the system is very scalable, and can support hundreds of users working on thousands of projects with millions of activities. This also means that it can support companies with geographically diverse projects and a workforce spread across the globe.
- Project: At its heart, P6 supports projects. But what is a project? In the Project Management Body of Knowledge, a project is defined as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service. (A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 4th Edition, The Project Management Institute, 2008). A project can mean different things in different industries, but projects comprise an amazingly large part of the commercial world. Traditionally we think of construction with respect to projects. But making entertainment is also a project. Think of all the people and equipment and coordination required to make a movie, television show, or album. Developing a new drug is a project as well, starting with basic research and moving to clinical trials, government approval, marketing, manufacturing, and distribution. Each of these is a project by itself.
But what matters is this: A project has a scope of work to be done, a timeline for completing the work, and a set amount of resources to do the work. All of these can be measured within the boundaries of the project. P6 allows you to make these measurements, and it gives you the ability to react to these measurements (scope, schedule, and budget) to ensure that your project accomplishes its goals.
- Portfolio: With very few exceptions, a project does not stand alone. A studio creates many movies over the course of a year. A pharmaceutical company develops many different drugs. An energy company has facilities ranging from the frigid tar sands of northern Alberta to the tropical coastline of Brazil. When making strategic decisions about what projects to pursue, which ones to pour more resources into, and which ones to halt, you need to see the larger picture. This is the grouping of projects into a portfolio. P6 can handle thousands of projects and has analytical capabilities to roll up information across projects and perform analysis across the enterprise. This allows decision makers to understand their business from a broad perspective, and to take action on that information.
- Management: There is an old adage that says: only what can be measured can be controlled. P6 is about planning projects and measuring progress as the project moves forward. Although P6 is very flexible in how it can be used, it is also designed to help you manage projects well. And when used properly, you can maintain a reliable budget, anticipate cash flow and resource usage, and record and react to changes as they arise. What's more, you can bring the various members of the project team together, set standards, and define the right way to run projects at your specific company.
In a nutshell, P6 is designed to help organizations manage their projects in a coherent manner, giving them the power to make better decisions and allowing them to focus on the best strategies.
P6 core concepts
What is P6? At its heart, P6 is an application for scheduling projects. Yet as we mentioned earlier, what a project means can vary greatly. And though the end product is varied, every project shares some common characteristics:
- There are deliverables (what the customer is paying for)
- There is scope of work to meet the requirements of the deliverables
- There is the management of:
- Resources (people, materials, and equipment)
- Communication among the project team
- Project Documentation
Project Management Life Cycle
A project has many phases, and these phases can be grouped in many ways using different terminologies and methodologies. One widely used and generally accepted categorization is as follows:
- Initiation – deciding whether to proceed finding funding and resources
- Planning – enumerating scope, creating the schedule, and planning resources
- Execution – performing the work to create the project deliverables
- Controlling – measuring progress and making corrective actions as the project progresses
- Closing – delivering the project and reviewing lessons learned
While many people associate P6 with the Planning stage, it can be used throughout the life cycle:
- Initiation: An initial project can be created to estimate the schedule, cash flow, and resource usage for projects that are still in the initial "what if" stages.
- Planning: Obviously, P6 can be used to create the project plan. This ability should never be underestimated, as the intelligent implementation of the CPM scheduling algorithms is the heart of what makes P6 the highly-valued tool that it is today.
- Execution: As the project progresses, the schedule is updated and adjusted as actual work is performed. Updated statuses can be entered directly into P6 and/or can be driven by timesheets.
- Controlling: As the situation on the ground changes and activities are completed, the scheduling algorithms will update the schedule to reflect new realities. P6 will show changes in anticipated resource usage and cash flow, so that you can alter the planned work as needed to stay on target.
- Closing: As the scope is completed, resources can be released to other projects. The completed project can then be converted to a project template , using the actual durations and resources expended to complete the project. Basing new projects on completed ones gives a well-grounded basis for estimating new projects.
At its core, P6 helps you manage these entities by breaking a project down into two main components: Activities and Resources.
An activity is a logical element of work to be done. Activities can occur independently, or can depend on one another. Managing the dependencies of activities is a core strength of P6.
When I was first learning software development, there was a certification test from Microsoft called Analyzing Requirements and Designing Solution Architecture, or the ARDSA. A common question on the test was to put a set of tasks into the best order to complete the work. For example, the job would be to turn on a flashlight. You are given a battery tester, a dozen batteries, only six of which work, and a flashlight that is broken down into three components: the case, the front casing, and a light bulb. What is the best way to order the following tasks?
- Turn on flashlight
- Test batteries
- Screw front casing onto case
- Insert batteries
- Identify two working batteries
- Insert light bulb into front casing
An activity can also have resources. Resources can be the people assigned to work on the task, the equipment that is needed to perform the work, or the materials to install. Each of these resources has an associated cost, and potentially limited availability. Knowing what resources you will need when and where is crucial in being able to make long-term plans on complex projects. For example, if you are sending a team to the South Pole station to assemble a new telescope, the logistics can be daunting, with a limited number of trips available in a given season. Heaven forbid that you send that team down and neglect to provide them with an essential piece of equipment. They can hardly drive down to the nearest Home Depot!
Resources also have calendars – when a given resource is available. For people, this is their work schedule. For equipment, there may be limitations on when it can be used based on weather, or a maintenance schedule. For the previous example, there is a calendar of when supplies and people can arrive at the station. If your team is working in arctic regions, there are seasons when the ground is too muddy to move equipment, and getting to the site can only be done during months when the ground is frozen.
There are also more mundane calendars. You may want to minimize the amount of overtime paid on a job, which can cut into profits. Certain employees may have religious holidays that affect the work schedule.
P6 posits resources as first-class citizens of the scheduling world. And it gives you the ability to manage resources across all of your projects, giving you the ability to make decisions from a high level.
What's new in P6 Release 8
Many changes were made between P6 Version 7 and release 8. Here we highlight the ones we view as most pertinent:
- Reporting through Oracle Business Intelligence Publisher.
The reporting engine of P6 Enterprise is now Oracle BI Publisher. This is the same reporting application used across a range of Oracle products. This means that there are many people already skilled in its use and many references available, including Oracle BI Publisher 11g: A Practical Guide to Enterprise Reporting, Packt Publishing. See also Appendix B, Integrations.
- JBoss Application Server no longer supported.
P6 version 7 was supported on Oracle Weblogic, IBM WebSphere, and JBoss, an open source application server. With Version 8, JBoss is no longer supported. Across many products, Oracle is standardizing on WebLogic. An excellent introduction to WebLogic is Oracle Weblogic Server 11gR1 PS2: Administration Essentials, Packt Publishing.
- Project Templates replace Methodology Manager.
In prior versions there were two separate programs and two separate databases: Project Management and Methodology Management. Templates are now part of the main P6 database, and can be managed and secured from the web interface (Note that P6 Professional does not support templates).
- Integration with Oracle Business Process Management (BPM).
Oracle's BPM Suite is a set of tools for allowing products to communicate with each other. Part of this functionality allows for the development of customized workflows which can interact with different products. Business Process Management and workflows are part of this set of products. Like BI Publisher, BPM is a well-documented technology which is explained on many websites as well as in books such as Getting Started with Oracle BPM Suite 11gR1 – A Hands-On Tutorial, Packt Publishing.
- Enhanced risk management.
A risk register and risk scoring matrix provide a system for monitoring and tracking risks.
- EPPM is one hundred percent web-based.
With prior versions, certain scheduling abilities were only available in the Windows Client. With the EPPM release of Version 8, users can completely create and manage their project schedules through the web, using Microsoft Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox.
- Tabbed views and configurable toolbars.
Tabs and customizable toolbars make for overall easier navigation.
- Timescaled Logic Diagrams.
Timescaled Logic Diagrams is a tool for viewing schedules in a time-driven chart which emphasizes the logical connections between activities in the project network.
New in Release 8.2
There are several new features which have been added to release 8.2:
- The installer has been made easier. The installer will walk you through setting up not only P6 but also many other applications that had to be installed separately before. This includes P6 Help, UPK, OCM, Progress Reporter, Integration API, Web Services, and Team Member.
- User Management: When copying users, all of their current toolbars and preferences are copied over. You can take advantage of this by configuring one account with standard settings, and then create new users based on this account. It is now also easy to create a new resource directly from a user account.
- Location: Oracle Locator is a new technology that is being implemented in many of Oracle's products. This gives you the ability to associate data with physical locations. Project, activities, and resources can be given locations. These locations can then be used in other applications such as P6 Analytics.
- Searching columns: P6 is notorious for containing dozens of fields: dates, properties, codes, variances, percentages, and so on. It can be a challenge sometimes to find the exact column you need when customizing your layouts. In 8.2 each of the Customize Column screens includes a search text box. If you want to see all the fields called "Actual", simply search for it.
- Exclusive mode: Before 8.2 you could not check out a project in P6 Web. In 8.2, users can now check out a project. This is called exclusive mode. While a project is in exclusive mode, it will be tagged with a lock icon, and only the user who locked it may use it.
- Is Under filter: This is a new property used in filtering data which lets you filter by location of an item within a hierarchy. For example, you can filter for activities only under a certain WBS node.
- Microsoft Project 2010 is now supported. You can use MSP projects to update P6, which allows you to retain support for MSP users, yet still be able to take advantage of managing all of your enterprise data in P6.
- P6 Professional unified: There are no longer two separate Windows desktop clients. With 8.1, there was P6 Professional, which is purely a Windows Client, and P6 Optional Client, which was like Professional but with certain administrative features stripped away. Now there is one and only one P6 Professional client and it will support running stand-alone as well as running connected to your Enterprise system.
- Line numbering: You can now choose to display line numbers on the screen in P6 Professional. These numbers can be very helpful when you create screenshots of your projects and want to talk about items on specific lines without ambiguity.
- Mobile support has been advanced. The Progress Reporter has been optimized to function on tablets as well. The iPhone application has gotten new features, and e-mail-based status is supported.
There are many more features in 8.2, such as the ability to group data by UDF. With this and so much more, it is an easy decision to use 8.2 to take advantage of these features.