Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How important is the SME?

You would have interacted with several SMEs. I have attempted to classify the SME. Five prominent personae emerged. (These are based on my experiences. Please feel free to add your thoughts.)

1. Temperamental SME: This SME loves to throw her weight around. She demands that things be done her way, else she will not cooperate. She dons the role of the boss and tells you when she expects things. She expects you to work only on her project and on nothing else. She throws a tantrum every time she thinks she has been let down.

2. Easy Go Lucky SME: This SME agrees to everything you say. His typical response to a query is 'Sure! Go ahead.' You wonder whether he has actually heard what you asked him. He typically falls in with the process but expects you to keep reminding him to give you time. When he does, he signs off storyboards rapidly which leaves you wondering whether he really went through them.

3. Absentee SME: This SME is never around to share his thoughts. Whenever you call him, he is busy. He needs a call from a 'higher up' to ensure that he spares time for you. Eventually, when he is forced to spend time with you, he passes on his resentment of the situation onto you.

4. Doing Your Job SME: This SME thinks being an ID is no big deal. She thinks she knows the best way to teach and present things. She typically focuses more on how content can be presented rather than on the accuracy of content. This storyboard is her baby, you change anything and she freaks. You are only to make those changes that she suggests. She tries to design your course for you and you end up feeling like an assistant.

5. The Perfect SME: This SME respects timelines, works with you as a team, takes the learner's motivations and needs seriously, and gives valuable feedback. He researches and pulls out the best stuff to help you understand and transfer the thoughts to the SB. He encourages you to call anytime you get stuck.

In every ID's blog, you will find at least one post on interacting with the SME. Most of these posts cover in detail the problems they face with SME. In every discussion forum, you will find SME interaction listed as an important skill that any ID must master. Why is the SME so important?
  1. SME is a library of information. He/she is an expert in the domain and has the knowledge that will make your training program effective for the learner.
  2. SME can ensure that your course is relevant to your learner. In most situations, the SME is in the best position to share the learner's real life situations and happenings.
  3. When the content is highly technical or unfamiliar, the SME becomes your walking stick. You have to interact with him/her to get comfortable with the content.
  4. SME will always ensure content accuracy. This is really important. You might as well not teach covering something incorrectly.
  5. From a sea of information, the SME helps decide what is absolutely necessary. SME can help prioritize topics and concepts.
Regardless of the SME's persona, you need to ensure that you have a process in place. Remember to keep these in mind:
  • Share the schedule with the SME. Let them know a day in advance that you are going to send them something. They can plan their reviews accordingly.
  • If you are send them two or three things, clearly let them know which ones you expect to receive first.
  • Most first time SME are not sure of what they need to do. Define their role clearly. If you send then a content dump, let them know what you expect from them. Let them know that they need to provide or validate examples.
  • It is important to explain the concept of a sign off. Ensure that they understand that if the TOC is signed off, revisiting it at a later stage would mean a scope change.
  • Build a rapport with them. You can going interact them for a long period of time. Ensure that this time is pleasant and fruitful for both.
  • Seek their opinion. Treat them like an expert.
  • If you do not agree with a feedback, discuss. Share your thoughts and concerns and hear them out. Never fix anything just because you have been told to do so.
  • Ensure that the SME also always keeps the learner in mind. Ask questions like 'Will the learner understand this?', 'Will the learner find this interesting?', 'Will the learner need this information?'


ripul said...

Situational comics would make this post more sexy!

Archana Narayan said...

I did think about it... but got lazy. :) Will try and include.

Rupa Rajagopalan said...

Interesting Post!

I like the way you have categorized SMEs.

I really dread working with a Easy Go Lucky SME. You really cant do much with such SMEs.

It depends so much on the kind of SME you work with to get the best out of his/her expertise.

Thanks for this post.


Mugdha said...

An interesting read! Especially loved the classification of SMEs!

Thanks for the valuable inputs! As IDs, interacting with SMEs is indeed an inseparable part of our jobs and every ID needs to master the skill.

Keep writing!

Best regards,
Mugdha N