Every great course begins with the knowledge of a Subject Matter Expert (SME). Being an effective SME, however, requires more than an understanding of the subject matter. Because the SME contributes as one member of a larger development team, skill in navigating the team work environment is essential for success. This challenge is even greater when the SME works with a geographically dispersed team.
There are four critical responsibilities every SME must perform well to be effective in the role. Those responsibilities are:
- Manage workflow. Poor workflow management results in unnecessary stress and frustration; unresolved workflow problems can eventually lead to job dissatisfaction and the loss of team members. While challenges are inevitable in any work situation, the challenges created by poor workflow management are preventable.
The key to workflow management is organization.
- Create a simple system for organizing information. Keep everything related to the project in one location. Store project documents—including emails, schedules, outlines, first drafts, and revisions—in paper or electronic folders. Using folders makes information easier to locate, saving time and reducing aggravation.
- Use a calendar to track deliverable dates, deadlines, and reminders. Because dates are subject to change, using an electronic calendar such as Outlook or Google Calendar helps prevents confusion.
- Keep detailed records of project activities. Not only is this essential for payment, but it also helps the SME learn how long it takes to complete various activities, resulting in improved planning and time management.
- Ask questions. Details are easily overlooked in a team setting because team members share information frequently, often on a daily basis. In this environment, it is important to ask questions when information is confusing, inconsistent, or incomplete. Sometimes clients simply forget to share all of the details. For example, the client might state that course objectives must conform to certain Bloom’s categories but forget to mention that two verbs within the category cannot be used, leading to significant revision efforts for the SME.
It is better to ask questions now than deal with problems later. Problems caught early in the project tend to be easier to solve than problems caught near the end.
- Build relationships. One of the challenges of working remotely is that distance between team members is often not only a geographic issue but a social issue. Working remotely can be isolating, which can lead to job dissatisfaction and reduced productivity. The relationships between team members are important. Strong working relationships contribute to improved project outcomes and greater job satisfaction, while reducing conflict and misunderstanding. Responding to emails and calls promptly is an easy way to build strong relationships.
Personal communication styles differ. Some individuals prefer more frequent contact with team members; others are comfortable with less. Either way, adapting to the communication styles of team members encourages more productive work relationships.
- Accept change. As the saying goes, change is the only constant. The work environment of a development project is fluid. Deadlines shift, meetings are canceled, team members leave, client requirements change, deliverables require revision, and so on.
How do successful SMEs cope with change? They accept it. Resisting change that is beyond the control of the SME does little more than prolong the inevitable. SMEs who are flexible, positive, and accept change will be less frustrated when change inevitably occurs.
There is more to being an effective SME than subject matter expertise. Managing workflow, building relationships, asking questions, and accepting change are critical to achieving professional success and job satisfaction.
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