How should you work with an SME?

Subject matter experts (SMEs) play one of the most important roles in your project’s success, so you need to build a partnership that’s collaborative and productive. But getting what you need from an SME isn’t always easy. Often that’s because SMEs are so far removed from the learning process that they have a hard time understanding what information the learner really needs to develop new skills and perform their job. And because they’re busy people, your projects can stall or come to a complete halt if the SMEs aren’t fully engaged.

So how do you work with busy SMEs to get—and keep!—your project moving in the right direction? Here are four quick tips that can help.

Be Prepared

I can’t reiterate this one enough: do your homework. Collect as much information as you can before you meet with the SME, and take time to digest it. Make notes. Have a list of specific questions. You want to leave your meeting with answers to those questions and a clear plan for course development. When you show up prepared, not only do you save yourself some time, you send the message that you value your SME’s time. And that helps start the relationship on the right foot.

Not sure what questions to ask? Check out this comprehensive list of needs analysis questions for some ideas.

Be Clear

Communication can make or break your projects. We’ve all been in that situation where one person leaves a meeting having heard one thing and another person comes away with an entirely different set of ideas. As such, it’s always good to repeat what you discussed with your SME in writing before you begin work on the course. Making sure you and your SME are on the same page takes just a few minutes—and those few minutes up front can prevent weeks of frustration and irrelevant content later.

Be in Sync

Once you have an informal agreement with your SME, document it with a formal, written course development agreement. In your agreement, make sure you define deliverables, timelines, project scope and constraints, reviewers, and measurements of success. Putting the details on paper (real or virtual) is a huge step toward aligning everyone’s expectations.

If you’ve never used an e-learning project agreement or created a project plan, don’t worry; we’ve got you covered! Check out this course development agreement and this basic project plan.

Be Appreciative

A big part of a good working relationship is respecting each other’s contributions and expertise. But it’s not valuable if you only think it—tell your SME! Obviously, the easiest way to let your SME know you value her is with an email. But even better? Send one to her manager too, praising your SME’s input. Little gestures like this can pay big dividends later on.

More Resources

Want to know more about how to work with SMEs to create amazing e-learning? Learn more about engaging productively with SMEs by downloading our free e-book, The Essential Guide to Working with Subject Matter Experts.

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Tracy Parish