If we got $1 everytime someone asks us during a chat "okay, what is the difference between you and P6?" we would have had enough to buy ourselves a very decent lunch.
Why we get this question is easy to undertand: the planning software world is small, has been dominated by P6 for many years and very often overlooked or left behind in terms of innovation and investments in new tech.
Frontline and P6 are two different tools that serve two different purposes working in ONE discipline: construction project planning.
Who is who?
Lets start by stating what each is:
P6 is a planning and scheduling software
Frontline is a schedule and resources simulation and optimization software
And what each is not:
P6 is not an optimization software
Frontline is not a scheduling software
This split shows that both Frontline and P6 are different products in nature, intent and technology and serve different business needs.
P6 helps planners build a project plan from scratch. Its a great product, super robust,with decades of succesful use and its the most widely used planning software for the construction industry.
Frontline helps planners simulate alternatives to their already existing plan easily and optimize this plan following their desired criteria. No two clients are looking for the same objective: some want to optimize the project duration, others want to reduce or better distribute resources, others are looking at bringing down costs.
One or the other? Both is best!
Our answer to the first question in always "use both". Frontline enhances planners using P6. Manual scheduling tools like P6 require the user to input all information manually. This is, first of all, extremely time-consuming and second, it prevents planners from studying better alternatives. It simply takes too much time to manually modify schedule parameters to try to improve the overall delivery.
This is specially painful during pre-construction and during execution. The short time frame of tender submissions prevents planners to study what-if scenarios that may improve the competitivness of their company's bid. During execution, when changes and delays materialize, studying mitigation measures is crucial but doing it manually by trial and error is extremely cumbersome.
Here is where Frontline comes in. Frontline's simulation algorithms take the set of activities on the schedule, logic, resources, calendar, etc and enable the user to find alternatives in seconds.
Being rule-based, the user can both define limits for the simulation i.e. "only simulate earthworks activities" as well as define constraints for the optimization i.e. "simulate options of 100 days or less project duration and maximum 10 electrical crews".
Great, how to use both?
Frontline is web-based. Planners only need to upload their schedule in P6 format, define the optimizations parameters and click "optimize!". Any schedule alternative that they are interested in can be downloaded in .xer format back into P6.
This way Frontline integrates with your planning process with little friction but opening the door to enhanced results.
At the end of the day, Frontline was started to empower planners and their role within project organizations.
Do Frontline & P6 compare in anything?
Although its clear that Frontline and P6 are two different tools, they do compare in some aspects and we went ahead and tested one vs the other. We used a fairly big schedule:
30 years duration
35,000 task-task relationships
25,000 task-resource relationships