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Collaborating with SMEs – Creating a Job Aid

In my first blog I talked about leveraging  your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). These are the consultants, trainers, and technical support staff that deal with how the software works in the real world. Today I want to explore the process of collaborating with an SME to create a job aid.

Overall, job aids aim to provide quick instructions for the end user. They are repositories of information or explanations of processes used to support work activities and increase performance. A job aid may come in several formats, such as a checklist of guidelines to follow to achieve positive results, a list of step by step processes, or a flowchart. Phone books, tax forms, posters, and even sticky notes are examples of job aids we all use every day. 

Select the Right Type of Job  Aid
As I mentioned, there are many different types of job aids that all serve their own purposes. Let’s assume you are creating something to help the end consumer complete a process. Use a checklist if there are many factors to consider. Note, though that a checklist may require some sort of knowledge about or experience with the process before it can be used effectively. Create a decision table, such as a flow chart, if there are multiple variables involved in the process. Flowcharts show a clear path to the solution in different sets of circumstances. A worksheet is another common type of job aid for processes. They have an implied sequence and engage the end user by requiring responses.

Let’s assume that a flow chart is the chosen job aid.

Find the Right SME
Probably the most important step in the process of creating a job aid happens before any writing or collaboration does. You need to start by finding the person that has the information you need. As I mentioned, SMEs are the people with the real-world knowledge. Find someone with whom you’d like to work. We all know there are SMEs out there, that while they have a wealth of information, they may not be the easiest to work with or share the desire to use a collaborative approach. Do some legwork and ask your colleagues for recommendations.

Determine the Best Means of Communication
You are a professional communicator, so use those skills to figure out which form of communication works best with your SME and adapt to their needs. Do you need to schedule meetings to nail down one-on-one time? Does email exchange work better? Ask probing questions in order to get the buy-in that your requests will be noticed and acted upon within the necessary timeframe.

Choose the Right Process
You know the type of job aid you’re creating; you know how to communicate with your SME, now hammer out what the best process is. Depending on the situation, you may need to educate your SME a bit. Chat with them about what it is you’re attempting to create. Explain who the target audience is. Most importantly, show an example of what the end product might look like. This will help ensure you are both on the same wave length throughout the project.

Complete Your Project
At this point you’re ready to do the actual work. Meet or correspond with your SME to gather the details and knowledge they have related to the work process you are describing, explaining, or demonstrating. Before you end that first communication, advise them what the next step will be (their review of your first draft). Send the draft to your SME with easy instructions on how to provide feedback on the flowchart and the timeframe in which you need them to respond. Thank them for their help.

Depending on how long you provide your collaborator to provide you feedback, you may want/need to send a friendly reminder a day or two before your deadline so they don’t forget about their commitment. Once you hear back from them, thank them for helping you, let them know what happens next, and when to expect to hear from you again. Keep up with your promises to meet timelines and send them the next revision, with the same feedback details.

This process can go through several iterations depending on the complexity, length, correctness of your interpretation of their knowledge. Once you get the final, approved job aid complete, send them the end product. Thank them for their help. Let their manager know how well the process went, and how you appreciate the SME transferring their knowledge to you. If you follow this process, you are bound to have a strong relationship with the SME, and help on future projects. As you make these connections you may even get useful information to add in other deliverables without having to ask!

Posted by Staci Cummings, Senior Content Manager, Epicor University

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