7 Rules to Never Break When Working With Your Subject Matter Expert
Don’t Break These Rules When Working With Your SME
In many respects, eLearning is a kind of conglomerate. It involves experts in content, coding, and coordination. You have UX people to make your course legible, designers to keep it pretty, and UI teams to ensure everything works. You have voice talent, photographers, editors, and more. You have to somehow juggle all these different skill sets to produce the best software. If your Subject Matter Expert happens to be an external contractor, how can you keep them happy? Here are some rules that you should never break when working with a Subject Matter Expert.
This first step is more about your peace of mind than theirs. Before you engage your expert, be sure they’re the right fit. Yes, they may know their stuff, but can they teach it? We all know someone who’s really good at what they do. But they don’t have the patience or ability to transfer that skill. They can’t “dumb it down” for non-experts. Look at other courses your expert has put together and talk to them about a few concepts in their area. If they can break it down for you, they can probably reach your online learners too. An effective Subject Matter Expert should be able to articulate their thoughts and deliver the information in a way that’s easy to consume.
Some people are naturally punctual, while others are “fashionably late.” It’s not just a bad habit, but it is disrespectful. Many consultants charge per hour, or they slot you into specific sessions. If you stretch those boundaries, you build up the negative sentiment. You may be paying your consultant, but you still owe them common courtesy. It’s the professional thing to do, and it puts them in a better frame of mind, which means they’ll do better work. It also retains a positive workspace for future networking and referrals.
An eLearning Subject Matter Expert potentially has encyclopedic knowledge in their area. Meanwhile, you’re only interested in a small portion of that skill set. Let them know exactly what you need. You don’t want them to spend hours crafting content you’re not interested in. They may have a vision of what they think your course should contain, but give them an outline to work with. List your must-have topics or ideas you’d like them to explore. In fact, they should be part of regular project meetings, so they can stay updated on the objectives and goals. As well as any other recent developments that may impact the scope of their work.
Similarly, while they know their area of specialization backward and forward, they’re probably not as cozy in your space. For example, you may be working with a leadership expert. But how do you define leadership as an organization? What online training software will you use, and how will their leadership content be framed? Walk them through your thinking, as well as your hardware and software. Talk about your vision so they can see how to best couch their expertise into your organizational model.
When you’re working with a consultant, your sense of self is crucial. You don’t want to be so in awe of your consultant that you spend all day swooning. They need your guidance. They need your authority and decision-making because you’ve hired them for a job. You’re not their boss, technically. But you are the PM who needs to take charge of every aspect of the eLearning project. At the same time, you don’t want to ride roughshod over them and be dismissive or patronizing. Achieve a balance. Recognize that you’re partners in this project.
Share thoughts respectfully and be open to their opinion, even when you disagree. The worst thing you can do is thoughtlessly defer to your consultant. Question their conclusion, but do it with decorum. You want to understand them, not undermine them. Success depends on both of you, so be polite, listen actively, and always remain fully engaged in the process. You should also make them aware that you’re there to offer ongoing support. They can contact you with any issues or concerns they may have during the project.
This is true for every business partnership and even some personal ones. You need to form a contract with your Subject Matter Expert to ensure that everyone knows what to expect. And what’s expected of them. Be clear about communication guidelines, due dates, and conflict resolution protocols. Get it all in writing. Including what comes in the package, how they bill, and how they handle extra expenses. For example, working longer than expected on a project because of revisions or ever-changing objectives.
When you’re dealing with a Subject Matter Expert, it’s crucial to respect their time, even if they’re not billing by the hour. Familiarize them with your system and format, they may know the subject, but they don’t know which bits you need. Don’t be too intimidated to engage them or too biased to hear their take on your work. Finally, keep your involvement active. Don’t just stand back and let them do everything. After all, it’s your project. Own it.