Building Bridges

Sam: An SME Story

For the past two months you’ve been working with Sam, your Quality Assurance expert. He’s provided you content you need for a course you’re developing although it’s been challenging to get his time and commitment. Now you are in the final review phase and must have Sam’s input. You’ve sent two e-mails and received no reply.

Does this sound familiar? You could ask, “What should I do next?” But, I’d rather focus on, “What should I do next time?” and look at the process more holistically.

Instructional designers often need to work with experts in a particular content area. These are our subject matter experts (SMEs). We need SMEs when we are asked to develop a course in a field in which we may not have expertise. For example, when developing a course on managing risk, budgeting, or delivering performance reviews, we need to obtain job-specific content from someone in the Risk Management, Finance, or Human Resources groups.

One of the challenges of identifying and working with SMEs who will meet the needs of your project is their “expert” status–they are very good at what they do and so are often called upon from other parts of the business to participate on task forces, project teams, and other special assignments. And, of course, they also need to perform their “regular” jobs. Where does that leave you when competing priorities pull the SME away from your training project?

In this post we provide a checklist: What to look for in an SME and, at least as important, how you can prepare and support your SME. Check out our SME Checklist.

At project close, be sure to thank your SME and show appreciation for the work your SME performed. Based on the SME’s personal style, you may choose a private thank you (such as a personal note) or a more public acknowledgement (an article in a corporate newsletter highlighting your SME’s role or a note to the SME’s divisional director, for example).

The next time you engage a subject matter expert try sharing this checklist, or parts of it as appropriate to your situation, with your SME.