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jim_small Posted by Jim Farrell

Over the past two years, I have mentioned that  Questionmark Live is a great tool for working with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). Today I wanted to share some things to keep in mind when working with SMEs on creating assessments.
1. All SMEs are NOT created equal
Very often we allow the business to decide how and who we work with when mining information from functional teams. This can be dangerous on many levels. The business might have people on the bench or “with some extra time”. Perhaps there is a reason why the person has “extra time”. This SME might not be a high contributor and the business doesn’t mind giving you their time. I believe it is worthwhile to interview your SMEs before agreeing to have them on a project. If a SME is not respected by leaders or their peers, then their work will not be accepted.
2. A very experienced SME is NOT always the best SME
SMEs with a lot experience often have their own ways of doing things. Yes, they have been on the battle lines and know what is required and what is “extra.” But their resulting shortcuts – although they may get the job done – can sometimes result in risky information collection. Although these SME-created shortcuts may get the job done, it is a risky way to collect information. These shortcuts are usually not officially backed by the business and may only work when you have the background knowledge the experienced SME owns. A less experienced SME may be more motivated to improve and educate.
3. Present everything to SMEs upfront
SMEs are very busy people. Even if they are individual contributors they are likely to be involved in a multitude of projects, often in leadership roles. It is very important to give your expectations up front. What are their duties? How much time will you require from them? What processes will you follow? What are your timelines? What are the expected outcomes? You have to be ready to answer all of these questions before calling on someone to be a SME.
4. Get to know SMEs on their own turf
In my experience, the best way to earn trust and establish credibility with SMEs is to work with them where they perform their jobs. I stated earlier that an interview will help you learn if a SME is worthy but you won’t understand their true potential without walking in their shoes (or at least very close to them). Spending a little bit of time in the business will let you better understand the nuances that make the SMEs job so important.
5. Make sure to celebrate success
Don’t forget to recognize when teams of SMEs reach milestones that you have set out for them. It is probably worth mentioning the importance of recognizing and documenting failures, too. Sometimes that learning experience is just as powerful.