Tips for Working with SMEs
Terry Shouba discusses the process of selecting and managing subject matter experts (SMEs) in the article “Bringing in the SMEs” (InterCom, April 1999). Based on personal experience, Shouba explains how an SME needs more than just technical expertise to be successful and creates a list of standards that project managers need to look for when selecting and recruiting an SME. Some of Shouba’s expectations and standards include:
- A positive attitude about the project as well as a willingness to improve the project.
- Ability to explain their area of expertise in a clear manner to the writer.
- An understanding that the writer needs to know and understand the subject in order to write an accurate document.
- The technical skills necessary for the job as well as full knowledge of all aspects of the area of expertise.
After the selection and recruiting process is complete, managers must have the ability to properly manage the newly hired SME. To be successful, the manager needs to motivate the SME to participate actively in the project. Before commencing the project, Shouba recommends explaining the job descriptions and the expectations and responsibilities of the SME and all other parties involved in the project. This alleviates future misunderstandings of the roles of the SME and the writer or consultant. Along with explaining the job description, Shouba recommends that the manager create a process description which may also include a timeline and due dates for the project. Combining these recommendations will create a simple guideline for all project participants to follow.
Finally, a manager must provide some form of recognition for the SME at the end of the project and let them know how much they contributed to the project. While the methods of recognition vary from company to company, recognition of each worker builds a lasting work relationship and encourages SMEs to further increase their areas of knowledge and expertise.