Without the proper tool, complex construction scheduling can be an unmanageable nightmare. Not so at Suncor Energy, where about 300 employees use Primavera Project Planner (P3) each day.
This construction scheduling software, which Suncor bought for $2,500, was more expensive than its competitors and required customization in allowing cost-allocation at the Activity ID level. However, it was well worth the extra dollars and efforts, said Salvador Carlos Hernandez Ramirez, who has worked at the Calgary-based company for two years and who has used Primavera software for seven years.
"In my last project, a combined cycle power plant, we grew from 800 activities, while the basic engineering phase was being executed, to more than 6,000 activities during startup and commissioning," Hernandez Ramirez said. "It was always the same project and P3 managed it as such, allowing schedulers to add detail and activities as information became available."
Using P3, schedulers can break complex projects into bite-size increments and then easily integrate each piece into the full project, he said. This reduces the time spent, increases efficiency and accuracy, and enables a company to allocate construction scheduling tasks to the most appropriate personnel or department. Standardized layouts make it easier for people to learn and use, speeding up training time and reducing mistakes, Hernandez Ramirez noted.
Since training, too, is often broken down into tiers, most users need only attend tier one and two classes, he said. The third session is more advanced, addressing global changes and some programming issues typically not of concern to most schedulers, Hernandez Ramirez added. And, if there is a question, documentation and technical support excel, he said: "It is the best documentation I have ever seen for scheduling. It also delves into project management problems, with real examples on earn value and schedule delays."
Overall, Hernandez Ramirez rated Primavera Project Planner (P3) a 9 out of 10.
How long have you been using this tool?:
I have been using Primavera Project Planner (P3) for about seven years.
What kinds of construction projects do you mostly work on?:
Suncor, which had revenue of about $18 billion last year, is involved in the oil and gas industry. The company was founded in 1967, and has grown rapidly over its 41-year history.
Where did you obtain it?:
Suncor bought it directly from Primavera Systems Inc., the publisher of the software.
How are you using this product?:
Why did you pick this product?:
This tool was chosen by Suncor management for use within the company as a standard tool for construction scheduling. In my past experience, businesses chose this tool because of the software's rigidity to create and set baselines while offering a great deal of flexibility in order to manage several levels and the work breakdown structure (WBS). It also integrates easily and tightly with company ledgers.
Was this product compatible with the software programs you were already using?:
No. For the purpose of cost-control we had to develop very simple routines in C++ to allocate cost at the Activity ID level. Such allocation was further broken into five major categories, which allowed us to see the cost at the various construction job-fronts exactly as each happened.
Did you look at other tools on the market before picking this one?:
Yes, we checked into other programs that featured a lot of flexibility to create baselines and setting up WBS and cost breakdown structure (CBS), but this was perceived as a weakness rather than a strength.
Before you bought this product, were you using a different one to do the same job? :
How many people are using this software? :
I reckon that about 300 people use it here each day. The people doing the input and day-to-day tasks are cost schedulers and supervisors.
Comparing the way you work now with the way you worked before you bought this tool, what has changed? :
With my previous employer, Primavera Project Planner allowed us to standardize layouts across several projects so that, when we were looking at schedules, each project had the same format. Therefore, reporting became easier to do for those in charge of creating them; it was also easier for those reading project status reports and updates to understand them.
Can you give us an example of a job where this tool really made a difference?:
In my last project, a combined cycle power plant, we grew from 800 activities while the basic engineering phase was being executed, to more than 6,000 activities during the start-up and commissioning. It was always the same project and P3 managed it as such, allowing schedulers to add detail and activities as information became available.
Furthermore, in my first job as a scheduler engineer, we broke down the schedule of an oil platform project into smaller, more manageable projects that allowed us to optimize in isolation the execution of its parts, and then integrate each component back into the complete, much larger project each month. We were able to do this using the software's "fragnets" feature.
Can you estimate how much time or money you saved or other measurable benefits your firm realized using this tool?:
I don't feel able to respond.
What are the best features (for your business) in this tool?:
The fact that an activities' identifications can be linked to job cost accounts in ledgers, so as to allow the merge of actual dollars with each activity on a monthly basis and evaluate the money burning rate vs. progress made, is very valuable to an organization's planning and budgeting processes.
Do you think it's a fair value for the price you paid?:
Primavera Project Planner is the most expensive construction scheduling software that I have used, yet cost is not always related to quality. In this case, however, I believe the cost associated to develop such software is fair and so a couple of thousand of dollars very well is justified.
What would you change about the product if you could?:
I'd reduce the price in order to have a larger base of users.
Are there features that you don't use?:
I feel that the resource-loading feature is not used much because the limitations on any project are set by the conditions encountered on construction job sites, not by the availability of resources.
Who would you recommend use this tool?:
I would recommend it to any company that requires scheduling software.
How much computer experience do you think someone needs to use this tool effectively?:
People need just basic knowledge of computing skills, but the user must understand what calculations are done when scheduling activities in projects. In doing so, the learning curve is shortened.
Did it take much training (or studying) to learn to use this tool?:
Training is a must for this tool, and while it usually has three levels, the third tier of training is not really needed for day-to-day construction project management activities because the course covers global changes and some advanced programming.
Have you ever called the company's support lines and asked for help?:
I had to call Primavera once when my computer crashed and the license was assigned to a broken PC. The support staff was very friendly and responded very quickly to my request.
How would you rate the user documentation? :
It is the best documentation I have ever seen for construction scheduling software. It also delves into project management problems, with real examples on earn value and schedule delays.
When the next version of this software comes out, will you upgrade to it?:
It depends on the company's needs, I believe.
Overall, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate this tool?: