ScheduleReader

Review by Tim Breeding

In just one sentence, ScheduleReader is a desktop application that reads XER, XML and XLS files exported from Primavera P6 where users don’t need to have P6 software in order to view project files.

But if we need to explain all capabilities of this solution, it needs much more than a sentence.

It’s because during the years, ScheduleReader evolved into a real companion tool to Oracle’s Primavera P6 with a full range of features that meet different targets’ goals.

Let's start!

The OODA Loop

The OODA Loop is an acronym with military roots (surprising, right?). It stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.

It illustrates the iterative nature of the activities we engage in. In all of the daily hustle of our work lives, we often forget that the only reason we produce information is to make a decision, act upon that decision, and then see where that decision took us.

Too often, we just start producing information for the sake of keeping busy or feeling productive, but we should focus more on making our efforts more focused and useful. Scheduling is a purely iterative process.

Scheduling information is typically issued to the field via PDF. The PDF is static and uncompromising. It's often very busy, thus difficult tease out the insight you need to make effective decisions. An experienced scheduler can flip through multiple views per minute to review the status of the project. The PDF does not allow this.

Some organizations call for schedulers to issue several different PDFs to accommodate different players within the organization. One for the PM, one for this supervisor, that supervisor, etc. This can take quite a lot of time. At one point I was on a team of four schedulers that were issuing five different PDF files per day.

I calculated that the PDF generation alone was costing the organization $100,000 a year. Custom PDF layouts can limit visibility also by hiding the interdependence between different resources when certain teams only want to see their own work.

You must be able to look at the information in various ways, quickly, to gain enough insight to make decisions to move forward.

How can you do this?

ScheduleReader, the tool you need

What is needed is a simple way for project team members to have the freedom to look at project data in many ways, quickly that doesn't burden the scheduler or PM with creating a bunch of static PDF files.

Sending project schedules in PDF format vs XER format

ScheduleReader is the tool you need, for some people.

I have used some other excel-based XER viewing tools in the past. I actually built one myself from scratch a decade ago.

ScheduleReader is the cleanest and most intuitive interface I have seen thus far. It looks like it's built using the MS Office suite so it will familiar to almost anyone, but they have also mimicked the P6 look and feel enough so that P6 users will feel at home as well.

The videos available on their site and YouTube make it easy to learn, so adoption shouldn't be a challenge.

The software allows you to look at the schedule in many different ways very quickly. Changing columns and filtering is easy, but the feature I really like is the ability to use layout files from P6.

Simply put, you can't ask for a much easier interface when it comes to manipulating a P6 schedule.

Viewing Project Information

After opening XER file in ScheduleReader, you can navigate through the following views:

Activity View - the work that should be performed in a specific period of time.

Viewing XER project information

WBS View - top down overview of the main project deliverables.

Project View - view the Enterprise Project Structure (EPS).

Resource View - a list of all resources necessary to complete the projects included in your enterprise project structure.

Assignments View - resource allocations across all imported projects.

OBS View - the management structure established in your organization.

Roles View - a specific set of knowledge, proficiency or skills a personnel should possess to work on a project, such as a job title.

Linear Scheduling View - Useful for Civil Engineering, Construction and Power Engineering projects. It allows a view of the project elements in time-location diagram.

What I like is the possibility to customize the Gantt Chart. I can easily switch off a view I don’t want to be displayed in the view or change the bar color.

Updates and Analysis

There are several key features that ScheduleReader contains that make it more than just a simple XER viewer. One of these features is the ability to compare up to four different XER files at a time. This is the Baselines feature.

Importing project baselines

This is a very nice tool for analyzing how the project is unfolding.

Again, it is very easy to use.

They have also implemented the Trace Logic view from P6, but actually made it better looking. This is useful for gathering a visual representation of how the activities relate to each other.

You can “trace” forward and backward though a sequence of activities, so you can focus on predecessor/successor relationships. In this way you can easily determine if an activity’s predecessors were delayed or if existing constraints are still applicable.

You can also see if relationship types portray the sequence in which the activities should occur.

Again, it has a very clean appearance and works very similar to P6.

Trace Logic in ScheduleReader

Another feature is the Progress Update. It allows you to update progress very easily within ScheduleReader and then export the updated schedule to an XLS and then import it back into P6.

It's quick and easy to update.

Progress update

ScheduleReader also allows you to review global data such as calendars which is great for administrators to ensure they're not importing anything they don't want.

Graphical Reports

The recent release came with a surprise. They introduced a new version, the ScheduleReader PRO in addition to the ScheduleReader Standard version.

The recent release came with a surprise. They introduced a new version, the ScheduleReader PRO in addition to the ScheduleReader Standard version.

The difference?

The PRO version is equipped with Reports that gives overall information about the status of the project plan. This feature will help users to create graphical reports and dashboards and present the status of particular project parameters in front of management.

Graphical reports

Predefined reports are divided into two groups: DCMA 14 Schedule Analysis and Project Schedule Analysis report.

Beside the predefined reports, a respectful option is the ability to create custom reports to satisfy specific needs and requirements.

Creating custom reports

What I like?

As a person who is extremely comfortable in software I love the idea of ScheduleReader.

It gives you the ability to look at a schedule in many different ways, very quickly. It feels very familiar to P6 so it's easy to feel at home in the application.

I value the ability to create custom groups and filters. You know, sometimes it can be hard to view activities with specific characteristics: milestones, completed, that are starting next period or organize according original duration.

Now I only need to customize a group in a special dialog with defined data set and criteria. Custom groups are saved together with the layout on an application level, and can be reused later.

And the software runs very smoothly, it's actually faster than P6. Much faster if you need to open large XER file.

Price

I've been working with Primavera P6 in the Oil Refining industry now for 10 years.

The only certain thing is that profits are getting thinner.

I'm certain this story resonates with every industry. This means that project execution and the administrative costs of running the business must become more and more efficient.

Let's face it, enterprise software is expensive and Oracle's Primavera P6 is no exception.

ScheduleReader get the easy your organization the ability to avoid the steep cost of providing P6 access across your entire organization, but is your organization in the position to benefit from it?

Let's dive into the inner workings of the viewer for XER files - ScheduleReader

Hard Numbers

Let's get the easy stuff out of the way. I own a copy of Primavera P6 Professional myself and it's expensive.

The lowest possible price you can get away with is about $1100 upfront for only one year of the license and support.

The Perpetual license is $2500 and you pay an annual recurring support cost of $550, so your 5-year cost is around $5,250.

I don't know the specific costs for the Enterprise version of P6, but we know that it's expensive and requires a lot of overhead to manage.

ScheduleReader costs $349 per user (PRO version is $449) and the price goes down from there depending on how many licenses you purchase. Keeping the software completely up to date costs roughly 20% of the license fee, so your 5-year cost is under $500. That is less than 90% than the price of a full P6 license.

ScheduleReader ROI

I was a site Superuser for a plant that had around 200 users. Managing licenses, rights profiles, the OBS, etc is expensive. Limiting the number of licenses, and thus the complexity of your Primavera configuration can save you a lot of time, money, and headaches. There are many other subtle factors that can affect the cost of running Primavera, but for a small company it's fairly straight-forward. If you've got one scheduler or PM, you only need one Primavera license.

Relative to a full P6 license, it's cheap. For most companies, it's cheap enough to buy just to see if it's right for your organization. It's a very low-stakes investment.

What's missing?

I wish the Printing were a bit better organized, although that’s contradictory to what ScheduleReader wants to achieve. The page-setup dialog box doesn't have an 'Apply' button to you have to close the window for every change making it hard to dial in your print-preview quickly. I would add most of the features from the 'Options' tab of the page-setup straight to the Print view; there is plenty of real-estate for it.

Another thing is a mobile version. On the field users might need a mobile application to update project progress, and although they had an iOS app, is was withdrawn from the store for any reason.

Is this right for your organization?

I've worked in Oil & Gas for a decade now and most of the work processes I've seen have always centered around a dedicated Scheduler doing all of the work inside P6 while receiving written or verbal progress updates from the field. I have rarely encountered field supervisors, superintendents, or even managers that are comfortable enough inside P6, or a computer in general, to take advantage of having P6 installed on their own computer. If this is the case in your organization, I don't know if ScheduleReader will be a good fit. Be cautious about using the progress update feature, only for that fact that people tend to mis-manage XER files and folders and you're likely to get an old Excel file from someone. This can cause serious frustrations and miscommunication. Or even worse, you could update your actual P6 schedule with bad information.

That being said I would like to see ScheduleReader implement some more enterprise features that would push the baselines, layouts, and latest version of the schedule to the appropriate people involved in the project. This would save you from having to individually import the Layout Files, and reload baselines, etc. This would go even farther to flatten the learning curve.

However, I am starting to see a newer generation of managers and superintendents that are interested in using software tools rather than just looking at printed schedules and reports. ScheduleReader is perfect for these people and organizations.

In conclusion, I would definitely use ScheduleReader in my company. I would focus on building the work processes and the rhythm of the project around Primavera to ensure people are looking at the right schedule at the right time, particularly in the mobile app. It's inexpensive, fast, and as intuitive as something this complex can be.

If you want to try this solution, here it the link.

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