This blog reveals the essential do's and don'ts when collaborating with subject matter experts. Maximize the benefits of their expertise while avoiding common pitfalls.
In the domain of project execution, one piece often holds the key to the entire picture: subject matter expertise.
While generalists juggle various components, it’s the subject matter experts (SMEs) who dive deep, offering nuanced insights that often make the difference between success and mediocrity.
As businesses increasingly recognize the value of specialized knowledge, the role of SMEs has expanded from being mere consultants to integral parts of project teams.
This article aims to demystify the concept of subject matter expertise and offer actionable insights for organizations. Specifically, we will delve into what constitutes an SME, why their role is indispensable, and the do’s and don’ts of working with these experts.
Table of Contents:
- What Is a Subject Matter Expert?
- Why Is Subject Matter Expertise Important?
- What are the Do’s of Working with Subject Matter Experts?
- What are the Don’ts of Working with Subject Matter Experts?
What Is a Subject Matter Expert?
A subject matter expert, commonly referred to as an SME, is an individual with extensive knowledge and experience in a specific field. These individuals are not your run-of-the-mill professionals. They are the go-to authorities in their domain.
In the United States alone, 38,000+ SME experts are employed across the leading public and private sector companies.
Let’s talk about specific subject matter expert examples.
- In healthcare, think of a renowned cardiologist. They’re not just practicing medicine; they’re setting new standards in cardiac care. They’re the ones consulted for the most complex cases or the latest treatments.
- Switch gears to technology. Here, an SME expert could be a software engineer specializing in blockchain technology. They’re the ones you’d consult for initiating a new blockchain project, solving a coding bottleneck, or assessing the security of the system.
- But it’s not just high-stakes fields like medicine or technology where SMEs are crucial. Take marketing, for instance. An SME expert in digital marketing would be the authority on SEO strategies, the effectiveness of different marketing channels, and consumer behavior.
Why Is Subject Matter Expertise Important?
When a project is on the line, you want the best minds on it. Subject matter experts, or SMEs, are these minds.
They bring something to the table that you can’t find just anywhere: specialized subject matter expert assessment that goes deep, not just wide.
SMEs can look at the big picture. They spot the loopholes that others may miss. It’s not just about avoiding errors; it’s about foreseeing opportunities to innovate.
2. Mistake Minimization
An SME expert has the detailed, specific knowledge that a generalist might not have. They can spot nuances in something that could be easy to overlook.
3. Strategic Planning
SMEs help with strategy, too. They can tell you if you’re headed down a path that’s already been explored and found lacking. Their advice can steer a project away from pitfalls and toward success.
What are the Do’s of Working with Subject Matter Experts?
Working with a Subject Matter Expert can save a lot of time and money. However, the ROI of your engagement will be higher if you follow certain best practices.
Here are some fundamental do’s to keep in mind:
- Communication: Transparency isn’t just a buzzword. Make it a practice. Schedule routine meetings with the SME to discuss the project’s status. Be open about challenges. Honest dialogue helps preempt problems.
- Roles: It’s not enough to just have an SME on the team; their role should be clearly defined. Are they consulting, executing, or leading the project? Knowing this prevents confusion later on.
- Milestones: Time management is critical, especially when your SME expert is juggling multiple commitments. Break down the project into milestones. Explicit deadlines keep everyone on track and focused.
- Networking: Your SME likely knows other experts. Use that network. A quick introduction from your SME can open doors to additional resources or even new business opportunities.
- Skill Sharing: An SME can be a valuable educator. Facilitate sessions where they can share their knowledge with the team. It’s a win-win: the team learns, and the SME gets to understand the team’s capabilities better.
- Feedback: If your SME suggests an alternative approach or points out a flaw, listen. Their expertise could save you from costly mistakes down the line.
- Documentation: Make sure to record everything from meeting notes and brainstorming sessions to project changes. This is vital as you never know when you’ll need to refer back to this information, so it’s vital to keep a record of it.
By following these guidelines, you’ll be better equipped to capitalize on the unique skills and insights that an SME brings to your project.
What are the Don’ts of Working with Subject Matter Experts?
When working with an SME, steering clear of certain bad practices is vital. This is as important as the subject matter expert’s criteria for the green flags that can derail you from your common goal.
Here are the don’ts.
- Assumptions: It’s easy to assume that an SME knows it all. This might not always be the case. This is why you must clarify project goals and company processes upfront. A lack of context can lead to costly misunderstandings later on.
- Micromanaging: You’ve got an expert on your team for a reason. You should not hover while an SME works. Micromanaging not only irritates the SME but can hamper the work. You must trust your SME’s expertise.
- Ignoring Input: If your SME suggests a new approach, you should give that suggestion importance. Ignoring their advice can result in missed opportunities or, worse, project failure.
- Lack of Recognition: An SME’s contribution is often significant and time-consuming. Make it a point to acknowledge this. Failure to do so can demotivate SMEs and demotivate them from working on future projects.
- Poor Communication: Inconsistent or vague communication can derail a project fast. If the SME is unclear about a task due to poor communication, you must take the responsibility of ensuring there is a transparent medium of communication available.
- Exclusivity: While SMEs are a valuable asset, it’s important to keep an open mind and diverse perspectives. Relying too heavily on one expert can lead to potential bottlenecks and limit opportunities for growth.
- Failure to Document: Creating and maintaining proper records when working with SMEs is crucial. Proper documentation not only preserves valuable insights but also helps you identify areas where you can improve and optimize your processes.
By steering clear of these don’ts, you’re more likely to have a smooth, productive collaboration with your Subject Matter Expert.
Collaborating with subject matter experts is more than just a task on your project plan. It’s an opportunity to embrace new knowledge and grow as a team. You can achieve great things by communicating and working together, even when faced with challenges.
Looking for more guidance on this? Hurix Digital can help. We specialize in eLearning and training solutions, and our Solution Experts know a thing or two about K-12 Learning, Enterprise Learning, Publishing, and more.
Think you could benefit from that? Get in touch with us today and let us discuss your custom requirements to take your project a notch higher.