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Leveraging Your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) – a series on gleaning knowledge from the field

 Life in the world of content development can easily turn into one in which your writers are under pressure to meet deadlines, where they are forced to stay focused on the job at hand and to overlook the outside world. By doing that, they sometimes miss using one of the most useful resources to them – the consultants, trainers, and technical support staff that deal with how the software works in the real world. It’s easy to fall back on only writing the academics of the software...the step-by-step processes to complete tasks, but what customers need to know are the why and how of the application, along with practical examples based on real-world scenarios.

Getting the ‘buy-in’
The challenge in working with this group of individuals is getting buy-in that their input is worth the time away from the next consulting engagement, training class, or a break between support calls. Start by building a solid relationship with your subject matter expert (SME) group. Meet with the leaders, for example the Professional Services Director, or Technical Support Manager; explain the value of their expertise and your willingness to make contributions from their teams as painless as possible. Next, find a way to motivate them to contribute. It may be as easy as recognizing these contributing individuals. An easy way to start is to add their names and titles to content produced. Another idea is to build participation into a compensation plan, if possible. Or, content contribution can be written into their job descriptions.

Smooth content process
Once you get the buy-in, it’s important to have a painless and understandable process for SMEs to send you their content. Have this mapped out before you begin the first call – it will help with your credibility and with building trust with the group.  For example, utilize Microsoft SharePoint® - long known as a tool for team collaboration. Create a site specifically to support your project.  Include areas to share documents, post your processes, and list out the project team. Test out the process with a set of supporters before releasing to the masses. Welcome all feedback and implement change requests quickly.

On the other side of the SME equation is the content producer. The content producers also need training on the process of interacting with the SMEs - both the formal process (as described above) and the informal etiquette. The informal etiquette includes things like learning what the average daily and weekly demands are of the SME, what their crunch times are, and when they are most likely to have a moment to work with the content producer. Typically the end of the month or the end of the quarter are not good times to launch these kinds of projects. Consultants in the field will most likely be working on finalizing customer projects and tying up internal loose ends. Emphasize patience and perseverance to your writers. Remember, SMEs are a very busy group of individuals who have different goals from content writers. During that first meeting, ask the necessary questions to learn about their current demands so you can properly set expectations for all involved.

Next time I’ll focus on creating a specific deliverable with an expert - working with a SME to create a job aid.

Posted by Staci Cummings, Senior Content Manager, Epicor University

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