Posts tagged ‘SME’

Becoming best friends with Subject Matter Experts

A subject matter expert or SME (commonly said ‘smee’) is a person who has expert knowledge on a particular topic. This is normally due to the topic being the job they do or system they use every day. When on project as a technical writer, a SME is your best friend. In fact, SMEs tend to be the ones who will be using what you’re working on when you’re finished, so not only do you have to extract the information from them, you have to present it in a way they like too. You basically have to be their best friend.

Establishing this relationship with SMEs can sometimes be the most challenging part of the project. They’re often still doing their normal job while the project runs, so straight away you’re coming in from an annoying angle. But if you do the work well, and get them involved early, you’ll find it’s far easier.

The best way, both professionally and personally, to get SMEs on board with a project and its aim, is to get them involved as soon as possible. And by involved I mean with the project purpose, direction and expected outcomes, not just with the piece of work they can help with. If they know where their piece fits in the project puzzle they’ll naturally want to have more of an input.

It also helps if you explain your involvement to a SME. Like why you’re there, what you’re doing and how you’re going to do it. A useful approach when explaining this is to have already got stuck into the work and created what I call a ‘skeleton draft’ (or two). Having something to put in front of the SME is always helpful. The drafts make it easy to identify gaps and ask good questions, and show the SME straight away the style of work you are going to produce. If you’ve got time you can also work with the SME to scribble all over it touching up content, removing things that don’t work and highlighting the things that do. Then after a bit of a touch up you not only have a template, your SME has been involved in its creation from the get-go.

When a project changes from an interruption to being interesting, meetings are suddenly accepted and new records are set for turnaround times. Without any work tension you’ll often find that the SME is a really cool person too, while some even have an opinion on sport (a good thing)! I’ll admit that there are occasions where this isn’t foolproof, like if you’re developing something that will remove someone’s job, and that someone is the SME… but ideally, knowing how to do the job well leads to good SME relationships.

Do you have any pointers for building a good relationship with SMEs? Have you worked on any projects where your relationship with them was particularly good, or particularly awful? I’d love to hear your examples.



June 29, 2011 at 10:54 am Leave a comment

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