SME approval process and sign off


I have a project where multiple owners, managers and subject managers are involved. It's quickly becoming tougher to manage the different feedback channels and obtain the necessary project sign off.

Is there something (process, checklist) I can to help me bring this team together and regain control of the project? Historically, I've worked with a single project brief and one project owner, so this was never a problem.

Thanks for any help or ideas you can share!

9 Replies
Huey Chin Teo

Hi Carla,

First and foremost, you need to put a business process in place.

You can tie this business process to our training ADDIE model.

Analysis - Design- Develop - Implementation - Evaluation.

At each phase, there is a sign-off form which you, clients and SMEs have to sign off. After sign off, there is a requirement freeze. It means there should be no more changes to the content structure, except software bugs or English errors.

If SME wants to change structure, it will be good to educate them that it will affect timeline and lastly, get them to endorse a Change Requirement Lists. In this list, all change requirements will documented and again, all parties must sign on it. You can have a disclaimer that such a CRL will affect project timeline.

Carla Stewart

Thanks David and Huey! I really wish I'd seen those job aids earlier! They will help!

Huey, thank you for your great info. I completely agree about the milestone sign-offs. Do you have any examples you can share? If it's confidential, I understand why you couldn't share. But it sounds like you have some great processes in place.

How do you handle changes identified after the sign off? What if something was overlooked or missed (I'm not a formally trained ID) and everyone agrees the content should be added? Will you ever go back and include it or do you stay with the plan and factor the changes into a future update?

I sure appreciate this community and all the help you provide!

Huey Chin Teo

Hi Carla,

As i said it in my previous post, the process is tied to the ADDIE model.

You can give any form of flashy name for each phase.

For example, in Analysis stage, usually we conduct Training Needs Analysis, so you can called Content Requirements Specification. In this form, you will need to specify the following:

1) Learning Objectives

2) Target Audience

3) Pre-requisities for the course

4) Micro-instructional strategy

5) Macro-instructional strategy

6) Map structure of e-learning content

7) Supporting objectives for the learning objectives

For changes identified after sign-off, usually i record down in that particular phase. For example, in Analysis, we missed out 1 Learning Objective. But in Design, where storyboarding is important, maybe clients said to add in 1 more Learning Objective, i usually record that change as a change requirement in Design phase sign-off form.

In this way, we do not need to back-track all the way and redo the documentation. Of course, if you are running a business, you have to ascertain whether the change requires additional costing. But if it is an internal company project, your only concern will be your deadline.

Diane Elkins

For the online draft, we use SharePoint to manage comments.  Here's a quick tutorial we made for one of our clients.

While we are still in storyboard phase, we use tracked changes and comments in Word, with one person designated to compile feedback from multiple reviewers.

Huey Chin Teo

Kevin Thompson said:

Hi Huey,

I'm interested in hearing more about your micro and macro instructional strategies... how you define & differentiate them, etc.


It is very simple.

For Micro , usually i touch on organisation of content generally in each frame. For example, Textual information will be supported by video or animation to reinforce the knowledge, etc.... You can also talk about organisation of the content.

For Macro, usually, i define the over-arching theories  that i used in the e-Learning content like Gagne's Nine Steps of Instructions combined with Keller's ARC theory. You can also include Social Bandura Theory too.

Natalia Mueller

Carla, I just went back and read your original question. I'm glad because my previous answer was aimed more towards ideas for future projects. Now I see you are looking for ideas for how to regain control of your current project that has too many cooks in the kitchen. Is that more on point?

I realize that it depends greatly on whether this project is for an internal or external client and there may be several variables no one knows but you. Either way, here's my stab at it.

I think you can get it back to a manageable process with a couple of tactful conversations. I would consider getting all of the current players together for an honest discussion with you as the facilitator. Share your concerns. Tell them that you want their feedback to make this the best course possible, but the current sign off process has become too cumbersome to get the project finished in a timely manner. I have yet to work on a project where time didn't matter. If you present it as a concern for the sake of completing the project, you could turn them into advocates for streamlining your process. They may even come up with the solutions for you. I would still have something prepared to suggest. Such as, "for us to complete this project on time, I need to get this down to 2 official sign-offs. You are still welcome to submit your ideas and feedback, but I'll ultimately need one SME to work with me to determine what to use and to sign off that the content is accurate."

For the second person, you really want the highest project owner you can get. I'll often approach it with a smile and say "who ultimately has the authority to look at this course when it's all finished and shiny and say 'this isn't right. Crack it back open and fix it"? It's been my experience that the top few people in the room will either point to their boss who will say "that would be me" (in which case everyone else is going to defer to his/her for final say) or the boss will point to his next in command and say "I'll give that to so-in-so".

Something along those lines I'm sure I'll be surprised eventually, but I've had that conversation enough times at this point to expect a similar outcome. It mostly works because not many people want to be the one clearly holding up a project. This type of conversation draws those lines so everyone knows who is ultimately responsible for the progress. 

If you are struggling with this process that has gotten out of hand, I guarantee you aren't the first one there to have it happen. Communication is key and expressing concerns for the project with the intent to overcome the challenge  before damage occurs only increases your credibility.

I hope that can be in any way helpful.