Interviewing SMEs

Jan 05, 2011

I'm running into a few snags on a project I'm working on. I think my interviewing skillz are kinda bad, when it comes to talking w/my subject matter experts. I feel like I'm not coming away with complete information, and I'm worried that my SMEs are not really buying in to the project. I don't want to set this thing up for failure. Are there some tips you can share about how to communicate with SMEs to make a project go smoother?

5 Replies
Bob Lander

In our organization, we involve the SMEs on the front end. There is always a business reason that drives every e-learning project, so it's important that they know what that reason is. Usually it's something that'll alleviate some kind of pain or problem for them, so that way it's easy for them to buy in. It's really important to frame things with their needs in mind. They will want to be part of something if it makes their job easier or smoother.

A lot of times before there's ever an interview, I'll have a brainstorming meeting with my main SMEs and the project driver/sponsor, so that they can have a part in crafting identify the learning objectives. This is also a great time to get their ideas for realistic activities or interactions that will help the learners to acquire the skills needed. So that way, when it comes time to interview them on the nuts and bolts, they're already on-board with the learning objectives and they know what kind of information I need from them. Sometimes they even prepare stuff ahead of time for me, like manuals or links that'll help shape the content.

It's not always sunshine and gummy bears, but at least it's a process that seems to work pretty well most of the time.

Jeff Dowder

I like your question and wish I could say every project we had was tied to a business reason. We still see projects come through that bypass the system. That said, we've had to work even harder to set up question lists for such projects. 

One way we break it down is to ask our SMEs to answer one question: "What's the problem?" and from there we focus on what needs to be done to solve the problem. You'll get a lot of answers and many won't relate to your audience or even your course, but it's a good way to get the conversation going.

Christine James

I try to focus on backwards design.  What's the ultimate goal and how do you know you got there?

Ask the SME about their objectives and what they would use as proof of meeting them.

Also, ask if they have examples of what they'd like to do.  Sometimes they have a mental picture of the course, but don;'t tell you until you're close to delivering the final.

Arthur Binotti

Come up with 10 basic questions.  So you don't overwhelm them with questions.  I alos like to show them examples of good and bad courses.

Another idea is to get them to brainstorm like someone else mentioned.  It gets them involved.  I also think they don't liek wasting time, so only invite them to meetings where they need to be and make sure they have action items. 

I like to send thank you emails and CC their managers.

Cindy Hollister

These are great ideas you guys!! I was reading another thread here (kind of related) where someone said to ask the SMEs what problem(s) (related to the training content, of course!) keep them up at night. In other words, what could the training do to make that concern or problem go away. Certainly not every problem they think of will be a training issue I guess, but this will at least get the conversation focused on what needs the training can meet.

Really appreciate all of the help - thanks again.