You're an independent consultant. The staff at your local library approaches you and describes a grant of several computers that they expect to receive, suggesting that the machines will have Windows 2000 Professional but will need security and fast Internet access.

You consider this information and recommend a Win2K server to secure the workstations with Group Policy so that the machines can serve as Internet kiosks. Because the number of workstations is small, you suggest Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS) to provide Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server for general Internet security and caching and recommend Microsoft Exchange Server to provide email for the library staff. You also suggest upgrading the network backbone from 10Mb hubs to a 100Mb switch.

The library immediately approves the funds for the switch, but approval for the server funds takes months. Only after the server arrives do you discover that the PCs are already secure. And you learn that the library's grant also includes a gigabit switch. You were trying to help this organization, but you realize that you could have been far more helpful if you had he understood the situation better.

"People don't know what they don't know" is a common truism among human resources (HR) professionals. This truism is relevant for matters of staff development, but it's equally relevant when people are dealing with new technology. People tend to view new technology through the perspective of the old--which is why we continue to use horsepower to rate automobile engines.

The library workers didn't know that providing the specifications for hardware, software, and other equipment would help. They simply assumed that the new PCs would work like their existing computers.

"Seek first to understand, then to be understood." This is habit 5 of Steven R. Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People." In this example, you understood the need, but you didn't fully understand the resources that were available. You felt responsible for the situation because you couldn't expect the staff to give you information they didn't know you needed.

Let's say you start a business and hire a few people. One of your new hires isn't meeting your expectations, so you bring the employee into your office with the intention of letting him go. You start the meeting by asking the employee how he thinks he has been doing, and you're surprised to learn that the employee thinks he has been doing a great job. The employee pitched in with various projects, started several others, and enjoyed his work to the fullest. As the employee continues with his explanation, you realize that you've failed at one of your own job objectives--to communicate your expectations clearly to your employees.

You could have avoided the problems that arose in each of these situations if you had understood what information was necessary and worked diligently to acquire it. When it comes to recertification, many people look at the exams and assume that they'll be similar to what they've taken in the past. If you were a Windows NT 4.0 MCSE who thought this way, you were certainly in for a surprise when you sat down to take your first Win2K exam because those exams tend to require a broader understanding of the OS and networking than their NT 4.0 equivalents.

People just getting started on the path to certification might fall into the same trap as the new employee in the example we discussed. They might have the appropriate enthusiasm and launch into studies of materials that they learned about from browsing the Internet or looking through the certification section at the local bookstore, but they'd be better served by going to the source to learn what's actually expected of them. Cisco Systems, Microsoft, 3Com, and others specify exactly what you should study on their Web sites. Take advantage of the information: Use the guidelines to understand what's expected of you, then deliver on those expectations.