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Dealing with Difficult SMEs

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

Even with all your diligence, planning and commitment to the project, you may encounter SMEs who don't meet their obligations. What do you do in these circumstances?

Document everything. Keep detailed records of when you asked for information, the requested deadline and the date you received information. Note how the SME's actions (or inactions) have affected the project schedule, budget and/or the completeness of the training materials. Although you should always try to resolve these problems yourself, your notes will help if you have to escalate an issue to the business sponsor.

Consider your options. If you aren't getting the information you need from SMEs, look for alternate routes. You may be able to glean tidbits of knowledge from trainers, other SMEs, your business sponsor, power users, etc. Of course, you should try to validate this information from the SME, but offering this information sometimes jump-starts the SME back into action.

Use diplomacy. If you need to confront a SME, do it directly and diplomatically. Have your documentation ready to support your statements, and make the SME aware of the problem that you're facing. Then offer to help find a solution. Although you may be frustrated at this point, remain calm but firm in your discussion.

Be prompt. Address issues as soon as they arise instead of waiting for a crisis. Putting out a small fire is always easier than waiting for a wildfire to consume your energy. Call a meeting and talk to the SME about your concerns. There might be a reasonable explanation for the issue. Listen closely for clues and see if you can find a way to work around it. However, if the issue continues, escalate to the SME's superior or the business sponsor with your documentation in hand.

These tips are a fine start, but how do you address particular challenges? For example, a SME who doesn't see your value? Is rarely available? Who shows no interest in the project? Or who makes a zillion changes to everything?

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