How to Maximize Subject Matter Experts’ Limited Time

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older Asian female subject matter expert

Subject matter experts’ time is valuable. So, how do you cooperate with them without interrupting their other duties?

Subject matter experts (SMEs) are an organization’s knowledge keepers. They know critical information because they have key responsibilities. That’s why one way to define business communication is moving this information from SMEs’ heads to any other employee, stakeholder, customer, or digital archive.

Unfortunately, this process takes time. After decades of working with SMEs across all kinds of industries, we’ve assembled a list of six time-saving techniques for getting the best information from SMEs in the least amount of time.

1. Gather Data First

In most situations, SMEs have already captured their knowledge somewhere. When ProEdit creatives start a new or unfamiliar project, clients usually provide outlines, first drafts, previous work, and other assets. This data does a great job bringing us up to speed on new projects before we even speak with an SME. Generally, SMEs create that data in the first place. It pays to avoid duplicating those efforts by interviewing SMEs for information they’ve already captured.

2. Schedule Time with Subject Matter Experts

Unexpected interruptions disrupt SMEs’ activities more than scheduled meetings do. While ProEdit content developers are usually flexible to jump into spontaneous discussions with our clients, we avoid asking the same of the SMEs we work with. Instead, we like to schedule teleconferences at times that fit SMEs’ schedules. This allows SMEs to maximize their limited time and keep control of their calendars.

3. Batch Questions and Conversations

Complex projects sometimes raise questions along the way. Once in a while, these questions demand an immediate answer that only a busy SME can provide. More often, however, questions can be batched into a single communication. This helps SMEs avoid unnecessary context switching.

4. Use Asynchronous Communication

Asynchronous communication allows senders and recipients to communicate offline at times that fit their respective schedules. The discerning use of email, document comments, and revision cycles helps SMEs and creators cooperate while maintaining their agendas. This makes it easier to work well off-site.

5. Investigate Questions Before You Contact Subject Matter Experts

Sometimes questions answer themselves. Consider holding onto questions that aren’t urgent and will not affect other work.

One of our technical illustrators recently received a batch of handwritten revisions. Most of the feedback was easy to interpret, but one note remained unclear. At first, the illustrator considered contacting the SME for immediate clarification. Some people have an impulse to gather all available information right away. However, the illustrator ultimately decided to wait for three crucial reasons.

First, the SME maintained a busy schedule. Second, a slight delay in asking for clarification would not affect the outcome. And third, the notes did not seem to suggest that making the other revisions first would upset the overall project. The illustrator decided to note the question and make the other revisions first. This would allow the illustrator to batch any additional questions into a single communication. And in the end, the illustrator figured out the answer to the question on his own after delving deeper into the revisions.

6. Use a Component Content Management System

Advanced business communication moves away from a document-focused architecture to a content-focused architecture. Documents hold varied, entangled information in only one place. They are difficult to repurpose, expensive to translate, and hard to search when someone has a question. Content-focused architecture is different.

A component content management system (CCMS) captures SME knowledge in flexible digital snippets. This helps, because diverse audiences can search all the data to find the small snippets of information they need without drilling down through complex documents—or contacting the responsible SME. Creating a CCMS can be a big undertaking. You’ll have to select the right standard, such as SCORM, AICC, DITA, or S1000D. There are advanced tools for your organization to learn, additional technology expenses to consider, and new operations processes to develop. In the end, though, a robust CCMS eventually helps growing enterprise organizations save lots of SME time and money because knowledge is centralized and democratized from the moment it is created.

Do Your Subject Matter Experts Have a Story to Tell?

ProEdit specializes in helping SMEs communicate their knowledge through superior writing, training, and content management. Let us know how we can serve your organization.