Show Your Work: SMEs

We all work with SMEs. Sometimes it’s wonderful, sometimes painful. Here are my tips from 2010. I still stand by these:

My philosophy is that SMEs are busy and my job is to minimize my impact on their time while maximizing their focus on the need-to-know information vs. nice-to-know.

I need to have the need-to-know, and that is my sole focus. My job is to get my SMEs to understand need vs. nice. [jump to 2014: If I were writing this today, I’d say, “doing vs. knowing”. What do they need to do?]

My SME work is getting them to understand need vs. nice. [2014 Tree here again…”My SME work is getting them to understand doing vs knowing.”]

I like to have an introductory meeting with the SME where I ask what their preferred method of communication is (phone, email, face-to-face), how long they can go before getting antsy, and what I think the time impact will be. I do this even if they’ve been “volunteered” by their manager.

Before I meet with any SME, I send an email with a list of the questions I’m need to have answered. If they respond back to me with the answers I use the scheduled time for deeper probing.

I research everything to get myself up to speed on terminology, processes, etc. This helps build my credibility. They know I’m always prepared and that I am only coming to them for something I can’t find on my own.

I over-schedule meetings!! If I know it’s going to take 30 minutes, I schedule 60. That way we’re done early, they think I’m terribly efficient and they don’t mind accepting future meeting invites from me.

If we’re done early, I end the meeting and let them go. I NEVER EVER just fill time because we have time.

I focus, focus, focus them on need vs. nice to know. It’s rare that I’m going to include nice-to-know in training (learners don’t often remember it). I’m always saying “how does this work for 80% of the people? The other 20% aren’t the norm, and this training doesn’t cover that. What do 80% of the people NEED to know to do 80% of their job?” [And again, in 2014 I replace the “need” with “do”, “nice” with “know”. See the change?
I focus, focus, focus them on doing vs knowing. It’s rare that I’m going to include knowing in training (learners don’t often remember it). I’m always saying, “what do 80% of the people DO? The other 20% aren’t the norm, and this training doesn’t cover that. What do 80% of the people need to do to complete 80% of their job?”]

I keep asking “If there was one thing, and only one thing that learners need to remember from this training what is it?”

I also ask, repeatedly, “What is the question that you keep having to answer over and over again?”

If they’re reviewing content, I tell them “these are your words, just re-ordered to allow for adult learning theories and concepts”. SMEs are people too, and very very VERY sensitive about their creations and words!

When I ask them to review something, I highlight/post-it note/call out the areas where I absolutely need them to answer a question or give me input. I tell them, “It would be ideal if you could review everything, but at the bare minimum please look at those areas”.

If I’m asking them to create content, I create a sample and a template. I make it very structured. “Put step 1 here. Step 2 there. Make the steps a single sentence that starts with a verb. Give me access to the system, and I’ll get the screenshots myself!”

Finally, I’ve become a master at the cube-lurk, random emails or IMs, or just anything that puts my name/face in the front of their minds. Usually just seeing me reminds them that I need something from them.

These are my SME tips…what do you do?

About Tricia Ransom

Patricia Ransom: wife, daughter, friend. Learning, laughing, living. Chicago, Illinois, downstate. Townie, urbanite, traveller. Note: The opinions expressed on this blog belong solely to me and should not be assumed to reflect the opinions of any of my employers past, current, or future.
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One Response to Show Your Work: SMEs

  1. bschlenker says:

    Excellent tips! I’ve written a couple posts about SMEs as well, and so its always nice to see the reality other professionals are dealing with. I think my approach takes a different twist on how we work with SMEs. And I KNOW my methods will not work for everybody and in every situation. Your tips will apply across the board in many situations. Excellent!


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