Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Handling SMEs? Not to worry!

I recently attended a conference of Technical Writers here in Bangalore. One of the key sessions was on Handling SMEs. I was, in a way, amused to note that a lot of the participants raised concerns about handling SMEs. It seemed to be a key challenge to them.

I have had challenges with SMEs too. But over the years, I have devised ways to handle this challenge and make the relationship much better between me and my SME. Here are my thoughts:

1. Be sensitive: SMEs have their own set of assignments too. As much as your e-learning course or documentation matters to you, so is it with SMEs when it comes to their set of deliverables. The content support they give us is just one of the many tasks on their list. So, Rule No: 1: Be sensitive to their tasks and schedule.

2. Educate them on the e-learning process so that they know why you might have to constantly contact them. This gives them clarity on why they might have to spare time for you. I suggest you have a proper project plan in place and identify the times when you might need SME support. Share the plan with the SME and remind them atleast two days in advance about their involvement - involvement in the form of reviews or discussions.

3. Record sessions with the SME. Whenver I go for SME discussion, even if it is for a 5 minute discussion, I switch on SoundForge, an audio editing device, that also enables me to record sound. I inform the SME that I would be recording the discussion so that I dont have to go back to him each time I have a doubt about any of the points discussed. This always helps and serves us both a great deal of time.
A word of caution: Remember to inform the SME that the discussion would be recorded. Some SMEs might not be comfortable with it. Do respect it, in case they raise an alarm.

4. Try and depend less on them - Research, research, research. SMEs help those who help themselves! When a content is new to you, rather than expecting the SME to completely back you up, do your bit of homework too. Try and research on the content as much as you can. In the end, verify what you researched with the SME. It takes the burden off the SME to a great extent. It helps you too, because you will have gathered so much about the content yourself.

5. Be polite in mails/chats. This is very important. I once had a discussion on mail about one of my projects. Halfway down the mail chain, I felt that the my SME was being rude. Thankfully, the SME was in the same location as mine. I walked up to his desk and politely asked if something was wrong. Nothing was, infact. Just that his choice of words made it sound rude. But it helped to have a straightforward discussion. The moment you sense that something is wrong, it is always better to iron things out immediately.

6. Keep the SME posted on learner feedback. Afterall, he is a stakeholder in your project too. It is only fair to let him know what the learners think about the course. Remember to give the SME due credits for his contribution to the project.


Amit Garg said...

Indu, agree with all you say above.
I would also add - Show them 'what's in it for them'. Since this is not the only tasks on their list they need to be sure why they are doing this and how it helps them (or their organization). This could be best done by the senior management of client oranization.

Have you ever faced multiple SMEs for same subject/course having - issues (mostly ego) about a topic? That could be tricky to handle :-)

Indu Gopinath said...

I agree, Amit. I also agree that the senior management would be the best to help them see what's in it for them.

Ego clashes in SMEs is not something that I have faced, but have seen a lot of my collegues face it. It is definitely tricky, like you say. I have two suggestions:

1. Bring the SMEs together to discuss a clash over a subject and then get them to agree on what should be covered in the course. Let them make the final decision. 2. If the SMEs just cannot decide, we cannot let a course suffer! In that case, let the ID make the final decision. In this case, one of the SMEs is going to get displeased for sure - but that's inevitable.

Rupa said...

Hey Indu,

Great stuff here. It is difficult to handle SMEs. I think it is important to ask them the right questions to get the kind of information we want. I have realized that we cannot expect the SME to give all information because he/she is supposed to do it.

I find it amusing when people say IDs need not understand or research on the subject because the SME is always there.

Thanks for the tips here :)