Up-front planning can head off disasterIntegrating the various systems used in corporate communications can be a formidable challenge taking you into areas far outside the normal IT comfort zone. But as with all challenges, there are simple things that you can do during the implementation cycle to minimize problems and increase your chances of success.  Managing ExpectationsIt’s often said that 70% of communications system implementations fail. The truth is that 70% of implementations do not meet the client’s expectations. Setting and managing realistic expectations ensures that when things get rolled out and turned on, they do what people expect them to do. Live within the realm of what is technically and financially feasible. Know the capabilities of your existing systems, particularly the technological restrictions of your phone system. The first step to realistic project expectations is understanding what can be done and what can’t be done. Your project affects a lot of different business systems and people and, unless you head it off, many of them are going to raise roadblocks. Usually, this is done by people who have not been consulted or who have no interest in moving the project forward. They are best handled up front in your planning, by getting everyone involved early on, from the network security folks to users, hearing and meeting their objections and, in most cases, getting their buy-in. For those who just won’t jump on board, identifying objections early will provide time to overcome them without blowing your time frame. Break Out of the Spec LoopIn many companies, the specification takes on a life of its own, becoming the end and no longer the means. Minimize the "specification loop" by doing more with less. Use a good statement of work and prototypes to ensure you’re getting what you asked for, and work closely with the project team to keep everyone’s expectations aligned. Don’t let the signing of a functional specification become a source of animosity between the vendor and the customer. An excellent working relationship between the two organizations will do more than anything else to overcome obstacles. Empower the DoersYou can head off animosity in a project by allowing the project implementation team to get the job done by removing obstacles themselves. Tell them to "just do it"—that will cut out the three-hour, nine-person conference calls that tie up expensive management resources around minor issues. Let the actual developers make decisions. If you allow for a certain amount of scope creep and still stay within a reasonable budget, this will save overall costs and aggravation. Scope creep is a dangerous thing in any project, but it is not hard to head it off. Often the vendor uses scope creep to extract more money from a client because they are unhappy with the agreed terms. If you can create a win-win situation up front, vendors are less likely to seek ways to get their "real" compensation down the road. And realistically, in systems implementation, if you are using a prototyping model, subsequent change cycles for minor requirements changes are easily accommodated and do not increase overall cost. Head Off Finger PointingAs the project nears completion, the testing starts and problems are found. But problems with what? If you are integrating seven different business systems, diagnosing the problem and assigning responsibility is problematic. Enterprises run into the "Manufacturers’ Coat of Arms": everyone points across their chest with both hands to the other vendors, saying, "Not my problem; their problem." As the project owner, you are left in the middle trying to find out exactly what is happening. Problem identification and resolution can add weeks to a project, holding internal resources on the project, requiring additional vendor resources, and delaying return on investment. Again —up front!—identify how problems are going to be resolved to ensure that it is done cleanly and expediently, while keeping the rollout on schedule. Configuration WoesI’ve seen more than my fair share of project teams scrambling at the last minute to simply input the configuration into the system. Everyone assumes that there is a file or a CD somewhere that has everything on it that you need to configure this new system. Experience shows that the configuration information you need will not be located in a single place on a single system—it will be in bits and pieces on people’s computers, on paper, and in people’s heads. And it will not be correct. You need to determine the configuration requirements up front and check them twice for accuracy. There you are: as promised, a few simple pointers. Good luck with your project! Rob McDougall is President of Upstream Works Software (www.upstreamworks.com), which provides advanced call centre integrated solutions. This article is based on a presentation made March 23 at the ICCM Canada conference in Toronto.