Dealing with conflicting advice from SMEs

Mar 20, 2017

Hi all,

I'm still very new to the world of eLearning and, as many of you are, I'm our company's instructional-designer-developer-programmer-implenter-one-stop-shop. I wonder how you've dealt with this situation on projects you've worked on:

I'm currently building a series of eLearning courses on how to use proprietary software within our company. The aim is to improve productivity by filling knowledge gaps and to standardise processes across teams, which means identifying good practice to achieve the business aims. As with most things in life, there are lots of ways to skin the proverbial cat when using the software and I'm getting a lot of conflicting advice from my SMEs.  I ask three different people how they would use a certain feature and I get three different answers. Each of them uses the software differently and bases their answer on their own experience. All three methods *could* work but I can't overload new trainees with too many options at every turn. How do I go about getting my SMEs to agree on one thing to tell novices, when this might mean recommending a way of working that they don't agree with?

5 Replies
Nicole Legault

Hi Christina!

What a great topic - thanks for posting about here in the E-Learning Heroes forums! I've actually been in that EXACT same situation myself, where I had to train on 1 process, but every team does it slightly differently, so which way do we use, or train them on? 

First of all, it sounds like you're on the right path by starting this whole project by narrowing down your process step-by-step before you build any training by doing what's called a task analysis. I've written about how to do a task analysis and why it's important in a couple of articles you might find helpful:

Now when it comes to several SMEs disagreeing on a process, I think the only solution here is that the business needs to decide on who will formally own a process. It could be one of your SMEs, or it could be maybe a manager or someone else altogether, but someone in the business needs to own each process that you're training on. This is one of the only ways you'll be able to get past the 3 different employees/3 different methods of doing something problem.

The person who owns the process will confer with the other SMEs or people who also need to use the process to make sure it aligns with their business needs/requirements as well, and then will give you the a-okay or stamp of approval when the process is clearly defined, for you to use it to start training employees.

This is how things should work. I've been in the same shoes as you and honestly until someone owns the process, you're going to have a really hard time nailing down how to train your learners and getting everyone to agree one 1 process. And to be honest, this should be something that's done by the business side of thing and the process is only passed on to the training dept once it's been nailed down but of course I understand that the reality is many businesses just don't fonction that way, and it's sometimes happening in tandem. 

Also when you're looking at the processes keep in mind that you want to find the process that is the most optimal for the business, maybe all 3 SMEs have processes where you end up in the same place but does one take 20 clicks more than the other to achieve? If so, that's wasted time/money on a non-optimal process. And lastly, keep in mind that everyone is attached to their current, and own way of doing things. People are doing things 3 different ways and they're comfortable like that and by nature, humans don't love change. So just be considerate and aware of that as well when you're addressing this issue.

I hope some of this is helpful!!

Bob S

Hi Christina,

Good question.  Nicole offered some great advice (as usual); having a process owner is key for lots of reasons.   

Taking things from a "how to" approach, rather than a "feature-based" approach is the way most of us try to tackle system/software training. It allows you to focus on the critical 80/20 rule for teaching how  a process will work most of the time. You will never be able to teach every variation and one-off situation.... and you probably shouldn't try.  That will only waste most of your learner's time and confuse them.

So in addition to establishing process owners, you may want to set the expectation that this standardized training will show what works for most folks most of the time.  Full stop.
And then perhaps appease the SME's by allowing them to have truly necessary variations attached as reference materials outside the main path of the training  (Note - truly necessary being key words).

Hope this line of thinking helps you and good luck!

Christina Clark

Thanks Bob and Nicole.

Some of the training is about button presses but a much larger part of it is about how to manipulate the features the software has. Maybe a fitting analogy would be training someone in how to format text in MS Word - maybe you need to copy and paste into a template from a website and the text needs to be formatted a certain way for this or that client. Copy/paste is super simple right? Well, no. Let's say there are three main changes you need to make to the copy and pasted text - font, fixing spacing issues, replacing an American spelling for a UK one throughout. Different people will perform those steps in slightly different ways, putting the steps in a different order or even using different functions of the software to achieve the same thing - a correctly formatted text. Some of it is about what the software can do and some of it is about how this or that person prefers to work. I prefer keyboard shortcuts, you prefer the mouse and we're both convinced our own way of doing it is better/faster/more accurate. It's a very clunky example but I hope you see what I mean!

I'll have to give the process owner thing some thought. That's definitely a problem in this situation.

Eric Schaffer

I like Christina's advise. I know I was in the same situation with some company software I was and still am working on. In my situation I was written the operator's manual a the same time. I was and still am the SME for this software, so I made the decision on how it was going to be trained on and how to make it work. One thing I noticed both as I was training and working with people in the company was they knew more than one way to skin the cat. I had to add sub sections in my manual, but I didn't put them in the eLearning class. I put a manual on-line with each class. It was a lot more work on my part but I think the information was better.

Allen VanBrunt

​If I read you right, you have three processes/procedures for doing a task
using a specific feature of the company's software program.


1. Identify ​the end-result of the process using the specified feature.
Example: Prepare company correspondence using Work 2016.
2. Develop flow diagrams of each SME's procedure/process for
accomplishing the end-result.
3. Compare flow diagrams to identify differences and similarities
between each.
4. Develop a company process/procedure to accomplish the end result.
Include all differences identified in #3 in new process.
5. Have SMEs review new company process/procedure addressing all
differences based on regulator requirements, etc.
6. Develop consensus with SMEs on differences and select "best" step for
inclusion in the new company process/procedure.
7. Publish new company process/procedure for review and testing.
8. Get buy in from all stake holders.

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