Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Subject Matter Experts - The 'Perfect Partner' in Training

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) - what comes to your mind when I use this term?

When I asked this question to some of my colleagues, the answers were plenty....."how do we work with them?", "Oh...they don't understand anything!", "some are nice - and some not worth mentioning", "..hmm it's tough to get the best out of them!" some more responses were lots of animated facial expressions! So, yes - each of us at some point in our professional life have worked with SMEs and have something to share about the experience!

I too have something to share about my own experiences about 'working with' SMEs. Though I'd like to believe that I don't 'work' with them anymore - I 'collaborate'! Here are my views on how you can collaborate with SMEs and make them a partner in training - the perfect partner - using the 'CIA' Model. (For the lack of any other acronym... I just created this easy to remember one!...no offenses!)

Communicate > Innovate > Accommodate

  • Communicate - Communication is the key to developing any relationship - with an SME or any other stakeholder on the project. However, with the SME it becomes even more important. Communication entails not only informing them about every progress and development in the project, but also keeping them involved right from the start. Communication should immerse them completely in the project so that they feel its 'their project' and can proudly boast about the same to their peers! There are project management aspects to communication that include sharing the plans, delivery times and methods, and meeting them regularly to share the progress. There are also ID-related aspects to communication, which include discussing the review comments shared by them and taking all comments to closure. Communication is the key to collaboration.
  • Innovate - Innovate in the use of tools and technologies when collaborating with SMEs. I have learnt that we need to be 'open' about how our SMEs would like to work with us on the project. Let's take a basic example. The most important aspect of an SMEs job is to review the content for technical accuracy. Now, there are some SMEs who are comfortable writing down their comments within the work product, others prefer sharing the review comments over a conference call after they have reviewed the product, and still others like to 'review' the product collaboratively. Some of my SMEs (not located at the same physical location as the project) have reviewed the work product in hard copy and then scanned and sent me the 'reviewd document scanned images '- cause that's what worked the best for them! These SMEs have inspired me to think and innovate about the tools and technologies that I propose to an SME when initiating a project. With Web2.0 knocking on the learning community, we have more tools available to us right now than ever before!
  • Accomodate - Finally, we need to accommodate as per the SME's style, preferences, and overall approach towards the project. I believe, adjusting and accommodating are 'positive' words and we should embrace them without getting our egos in between! For example, it is a good idea to ask the SMEs about the days and time that they would prefer a regular weekly meeting. It indicates that you are sensitive about their needs too. And this makes a tremendous difference to the way SMEs approach the project and the entire team. Or for example, it is always best to ask for their calendar so that you can schedule the project deliverables as per their availability and not 'pressure' them when they are on leave. I have also noticed that one of the key aspects of collaborating with SMEs is to understand that they have different priorities. The SMEs are super busy people whose first job is not training development! As instructional designers, we need to understand their priorities and build our activities around the same. True partnership happens when we understand each other's priorities and consider them like our own.

I have had many successful SME/ID partnerships whenever I have communicated, innovated, and accommodated! These three very basic 'tools' have helped me achieve my goals in designing and executing a training project.

Some more on specific tips and best practices another time. Watch this space...

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