Tuesday, January 13, 2015

How to deal with the overloaded SME

We are all busy. It’s the new normal. When I work on Course Development Teams that develop online learning, I often work with high calibre colleagues. I’ve noticed that high calibre colleagues are even MORE busy. They get stuff done, they work evenings and weekends. They are the “go-to” people when the organization or the department needs resources.
When one of these people is a Subject Matter Expert (SME) on a Course Development Team, sometimes it can be challenging. The time required for a SME to do their job well is almost universally underestimated. So now put an overloaded SME into a situation where they are required to invest a significantly greater amount of time and you may get some unexpected results. The most common result that I have experienced is “slippage”. Slippage in the sense that milestones come and go, that deliverables are chronically late and that emails sometimes go un-answered for days. It’s not the typical behaviour exhibited by this high calibre SME.

So as an Instructional Designer, what can you do to help? I have a few tips:
  1. Schedule a regular meeting on a consistent day/time. Depending on your project, it can be weekly or bi-weekly. A one hour meeting to touch base, to breakdown big milestone deliverables into smaller pieces, to identify difficulties and offer resources as the course development progresses, will be very valuable. You will find that hour to be a good investment of your time.
  2. Be organized. Anticipate the needs of the SME. Be prepared with document templates, with learning management system tools, and with performance support tools (such as handouts about how to write effective learning outcomes, etc.) Have these handouts available BEFORE your meetings and distribute them to the SME for consideration early in your project.
  3. Be sympathetic and offer your help. Challenge the SME to give you tasks that you can help with. One of those tasks is likely to simply give feedback on course content. Try your best to give rapid feedback. Be balanced, sensitive and succinct in your feedback. The overloaded SME doesn’t want to feel threatened nor do they want to read 17 pages of feedback (they just don’t have time).
Have you worked with an overloaded SME in the past? What advice would you give to Team Members who work with this individual.

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