Microsoft Project vs Primavera P6 (Which is Better?)

Many project managers (PMs) will tell you that there are two main contenders when it comes to professional grade scheduling software for construction projects: Microsoft Project and Primavera P6.

The fact that MS Project and Primavera P6 are both used in professional construction management will tell you that both of these applications are up to the task. In this article we’ll explore what each project management software package brings to the table.

What is Project Management Software?

Before we dive into the details, let’s start with a basic question. What is project management software?

Project management software is used for project planning, scheduling, resource allocation and change management. It helps project PMs, stakeholders and other users to control costs, manage budgets, monitor quality, and document complex projects.

Is MS Project Any Good?

Microsoft Project is part of the Office 365 ecosystem of applications and it’s one of the oldest project management tools available. MS Project is a good choice for project management teams that use Waterfall and Agile project management methodologies.

As someone who has used Microsoft Project for many years, I can tell you that there is a learning curve associated with the software. It’s not the easiest program to learn and, if you’re a new PM, a Microsoft Project course would be helpful.

What Do Project Managers Think of Oracle Primavera P6?

Oracle Primavera P6 is widely regarded as the best enterprise-grade project management tool for construction and engineering firms. Its advanced scheduling features and powerful resource management tools are well-suited to a variety of large-scale projects. 

Key Differences Between Microsoft Project and Primavera P6

Now that you have an overview of project management software and I’ve shared my hot take on each application, let’s start our deep dive.

After managing multiple projects with each application, here are the key differences between Microsoft Project and Primavera P6.

Database Connectivity

Microsoft Project can be used as standalone, file-based software. You don’t need a connection to a database to use it. Files are saved in .MPP format.

When used for enterprise project management (EPM), Microsoft Project utilizes Microsoft Project Server and SharePoint Server. In this configuration, all project data is stored in a SQL database.

Primavera P6 project management software works with an Oracle or SQL database. It’s designed from the ground up for enterprise project and portfolio management. While Primavera can’t isn’t a standalone, file-based software solution, project data can be exported to an .XER file.

Multiple User Access

Microsoft Project leverages Microsoft Project Server and SharePoint to allow multiple users to collaborate on projects. Primavera P6 also allows multiple user access. Both project management platforms allow an administrator to specify and limit the features each user has access to.

Activity Steps

Primavera P6 includes a feature called activity steps that let a project manager break a task down into detailed steps. Each step can be recorded and tracked without adding complexity to the Gantt chart.

While Microsoft Project doesn’t include activity steps, it comes close to approximating such a feature by capturing additional task details in the form of notes.

Tracking Costs

MS Project and Primavera P6 both include the ability to track direct costs including rate-based resource costs, fixed costs for tasks, and costs related to material resources. Indirect costs related to training or travel and accommodations can also be recorded.

Number of Columns

Data for project management software is organized into tables on the back end. Each column in a table represents a field or unique category of data.

Primavera P6 provides over 200 columns that represent every category of data you could possibly need, whether you’re managing a single project or multiple projects. MS Project supports over 500 default fields.

Custom Fields

MS Project and Primavera P6 both support custom fields – with slight differences.

While Primavera P6 only lets project managers add a blank custom field, Microsoft Project supports creating custom fields of various types (text, number, start, finish, outline code, date, cost, flag, and duration) and MS Project allows users to create formulas in custom fields to enhance project data by performing calculations.

Task Dependencies

MS Project and Primavera P6 both allow you to represent various task dependencies including:

  • Finish-to-Start (FS)

  • Start-to-Start (SS)

  • Finish-to-Finish (FF)

  • Start-to-Finish (SF)

Additionally, both programs support lead and lag time. Links between tasks can be created within a single project or between multiple projects.

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

Microsoft Project and Primavera P6 both support the creation of a work breakdown structure. A work breakdown structure (WBS) is a deliverable-oriented, visual representation of the hierarchy of tasks in a project.


While both programs provide a variety of reports that focus on key metrics and a project’s progress, most of the reports in Primavera P6 present data in rows and columns, similar to a spreadsheet.

Microsoft Project, on the other hand, contains a number of graphical reports, that can be customized to display key metrics visually.

Representing Baselines

Primavera P6 supports unlimited baselines in a project while MS Project also allows users to represent multiple baselines – up to 11 in total.

In Microsoft Project, baselines can be assigned to the project or selected tasks. This can be useful in the event you need to open an existing project plan and revise parts of the project schedule.

Importing or Exporting Project Data

Not surprisingly, both Primavera and MS Project let you import or export project data to a variety of file formats including XLS, XLSX, XER, and XML. The ability to import and export data from other formats makes it easy to share data between project management software packages.

Final Thoughts on the Microsoft Project vs Primavera P6 Comparison

After a thorough review of these two scheduling software packages, I would conclude that Primavera P6 is well-suited to construction scheduling and large-scale projects in energy and aerospace.

The relative simplicity and standalone capabilities of Microsoft Project make it the obvious choice for small-scale projects and new PMs.

By Michael Belfry

Working as a full-time training consultant, Michael provides Microsoft Office courses to government and private sector clients across Canada.