Help! How to get SME feedback on time?

Recently I got this great question from community member Cheryl Theis

"The challenge I continue to have is working with SMEs whose goals and priorities do not include developing training.  I am able to get the storyboard to 95%, but it sits for weeks waiting for the final details about a product and/or approval of the storyboard to move to programming.  At the beginning of the project we agree to a schedule of milestone dates along with the objectives/results of the training. I have incorporated, when possible, to have a back-up SME to work with, but the Lead SME has the final storyboard approval. Any suggestions on how to encourage your SMES to complete projects in these types of situations?"


Community peeps -- I'd love to hear tips on how you'd approach this problem and/or tips for how to prevent it in the future.

13 Replies
Cheryl Theis

 I totally agree that in-person meetings tend to keep a project on track better than conference calls and emails.  Unfortunately, 80% of my projects involve SMEs outside of the state or the country.

What I have been trying to do is schedule a weekly working call with the Lead SME. If the meeting is canceled by the SME due to work conflicts, I  have been setting up a meeting the same week (if possible) verses letting them go another full week without providing the information needed. 

I’m to the point of offer bribes to get final signoff for a couple of projects at the very moment.

Cary Glenn

I am in the somewhat fortunate position to work as an in-house designer and developer. When I send out courses for review I include a statement somewhat like this, "You prompt response is an important part of the process of developing this course. I need to have feedback within one week. Your silence will be taken as approval." My manager was the one who suggested this approach. After a week I will email them again asking for feedback, this email will also be cc'd to my manager and their manager. If I don't get a response soon after I develop the course based on their approval. This approach won't work for everyone, but it does work for me.

Cheryl Theis

The launch goal/deadline is set by the Lead SME and myself when the project is kicked off after the project has been scoped, objectives agreed upon and schedules checked. The exception is when we are training on a new product release. So many of the SMEs have the ‘its not on my performance goals, so let it be delayed’ attitude.  

 I understand customer’s come first, but at what point do you use ‘tough love’.   I have a project that has been on hold for 2 months due to vacations and delay of needed media (images, video). Yesterday I notified all the involved parties that I had no media to support an objective and if they could not supply it by Friday, the objective would be cut.  It actually worked. I received 5 images today.  I guess the lesson for me is to be more aggressive.

Bruce Graham

Be absolutely clear with everyone on the project, from the start, that everyone has a major part to play. If they want to play the "...but training is a small % of my time" card, then politely explain that this course is (probably...) only one of several that YOU are dealing with.

Once again - talk business. The success of the course should be ties to the success of the company, company projects etc. Make it clear to everyone that there is an impact to the business if timescales are not met. Cost it out if necessary.

I would not say "Be aggressive", but certainly "Be assertive". Do not be afraid to be the expert in what YOU do.

PS - I work almost entirely remotely, on projects around the World. Working as a complete professional partner, as equals, is something that is recognised anywhere IMHO. A lot of IDs seem to be scared to behave as business professionals, and want to keep their role as "providers". If you do that, you will NEVER gain a business status in the eyes of the SMEs where they view what you do as valuable, and make time for it when they are under pressure. Sometimes it is upto us to change ourselves in order to make things better.

David Tait

I agree with Allison's approach, if they want the job done on budget and on time then it's their responsibility to review on time.

It's always worth putting together a Statement of Work at the outset of a project where each stakeholder's responsibilities are listed. Each stakeholder should sign the statement agreeing that they will adhere to its specification, that way there is accountability when someone fails to deliver.

In your statement of work you could include caveats that for example cover the consequences of late review and the effect on budget and time that this may have. Be careful though, they might go tit-for-tat and be less forgiving if you ever drop the ball!

Rachel Barnum

I really like Cary's method (especially if it's in house): "You prompt response is an important part of the process of developing this course. I need to have feedback within one week. Your silence will be taken as approval."

I think another method if you're a freelancer is the The Magic Email:

"Since I have not heard from you on this, I have to assume your priorities have changed."

It's vague enough that you're not by any means calling the project off, but at the same time suggesting "give me something now or else this is done with."

I think that this email should only been used say when you've been waiting a couple of months or something ridiculous. Up until then, everyone else's advice is spot on :) (involving the stakeholders, project sponsor, etc.) 

Marley Hoggatt

With some of my SMEs, I hold their payment until the content is completed and peer-reviewed. I've also sent them Outlook invites that will pop up a weekly (or however often is necessary) reminder. I nag a lot via text and SMEs are all clinicians, researchers, or medical faculty, and their erratic schedules and workloads make it difficult to stick to deadlines.