Working Efficiently With SMEs

Working With SMEs
Sergey Nivens/
Summary: Subject Matter Experts can be your dream partners, but they can also turn into your worst professional nightmares. But fear not; once you understand who they are and how they think, communication will never be a problem again.

Getting The Most Out Of Your Cooperation With Subject Matter Experts

A Subject Matter Expert (SME) or domain expert is a person who has expertise in a particular area or topic, a person with special knowledge or skills in a particular area of endeavor (e.g., an accountant is an expert in the domain of accountancy). Working efficiently with SMEs is an important part of any Instructional Designer's life.

eBook Release: Rapid eLearning Design For Quick Rollout
eBook Release
Rapid eLearning Design For Quick Rollout
Learn how to design instructional material at cosmic speed.

According to Wikipedia, "the term is used when developing materials—a book, an examination, a manual, etc.—about a topic, and expertise on the topic is needed by the personnel developing the material. For example, tests are often created by a team of psychometricians and a team of SMEs. The psychometricians understand how to engineer a test while the SMEs understand the actual content of the exam. Books, manuals, and technical documentation are developed by technical writers and Instructional Designers in conjunction with SMEs. Technical communicators interview SMEs to extract information and convert it into a form suitable for the audience. SMEs are often required to sign off on the documents or training developed, checking it for technical accuracy. SMEs are also necessary for the development of training materials."

What You Should Know Before Working With SMEs

Because most of our training content comes from SMEs, one of the most important things we need to ensure is that we work efficiently with them, as this reduces the time of eLearning development. However, before we start working with SMEs, we need to answer these 2 questions.

1. Who Are They?

They are high-value professionals with access to proprietary information, and their primary job is not training. A few sample designations:

  • Senior director, quality assurance
  • Clinical operations manager
  • Marketing and sales manager
  • Operations specialist
  •  Senior engineer

If you are to take a quick poll on the functional background of SMEs, you will find that very few of them are actually from the training and development field. Does that sound surprising? Go on, check out who are the SMEs responsible for training in your organization. In all probability, almost none of them is from L&D. Quite similar to the background of IDs in fact.

2. Where Do They Find Time?

The biggest challenge is that eLearning experts must rely on the SME for expert content knowledge. And there are always 3 good reasons that SMEs are not available when you need them most:

  1. No time
  2. No time
  3. No time

Anyone who has worked with SMEs or is an SME knows this is the reality we must reckon with. So when do SMEs do their reviews?

Saving The SME Time

More involvement from the SME upfront leads to:

  • Less required later
  • More buy-in later
  • Fewer problems in the course

Here is a simple process we came up with for maximizing the SMEs' time and making their role less demanding as far as their involvement in eLearning initiatives is concerned. SMEs are typically involved throughout the eLearning process. However, we have learned through experience that when we cut down the time the SME needs to invest in the eLearning project and minimize the touchpoints, the project is more likely to be rolled out on time, and even before the due date. And the SME is more likely to be an involved stakeholder for further projects.

Here’s a simplified process we at CommLab India have been using for some time now to ensure the SMEs' time is minimized for inputs, reviews, and signoffs. The quickest way to cut down the time for reviews is by sending the SME an online review link. This also ensures that if there are multiple SMEs for a project, all the feedback is captured in one place, making it easier to implement and resolve contradictions or inconsistencies in feedback, if any. Try it. Your SMEs will thank you for it.

Solutions For Other ID Matters

There are many challenges that come with being a professional Instructional Designer. Our long experience has allowed us to learn the ropes and refine our procedures. We understand better than anyone how important it is to work fast and effectively. The path of an Instructional Designer is the fine line between succeeding in the world of business and thriving in the world of education, and you will often find yourself collaborating with people that deal in one of the two possible extremes. It is your job to build bridges over these gaps, and guide your organization toward the realization of their goals. This is quite an intimidating task. This is the reason we have compiled a guide that showcases the methods and techniques we use, which we developed through our many years of experience. Hopefully, it will be useful to both beginner and veteran IDs. Download the eBook "Rapid eLearning Design For Quick Rollout" and find out for yourself.