Just like in a well-balanced cooking recipe, the right combination of ingredients are critical to the success of the entire dish or in this case the project. One wrong ingredient and, well, let’s say that it may be a good idea to send out for pizza. Sometimes it seems that getting that perfect blend of people and skills, leadership and expertise on a project can be as complicated as the project itself. The technical project team is one part of that recipe, add in the business stakeholders, the executives who support the project and of course the functional/business subject matter experts and you’re off to a good start. You have a vision, you have a charter, you have a budget and a timeline and you have your team.
Let’s look at one ingredient in the project recipe, the Subject Matter Expert (SME).
The Subject Matter Expert (SME) is that individual who exhibits the highest level of expertise in performing a specialized job, task or skill within the organization; therefore the selection of the SME is critical to the success of the project.
When selecting the right SME look at the candidates you’re considering:
- Do they know the business?
- Are they able to speak to the needs of the business on a holistic level – internal and external customers?
- Are they team players?
- May sound cliché but it’s important that the SME play well with others.
- Can they be an advocate for the business?
- Are they able to articulate the needs of the business and help the technical team develop a solution that will be both technically feasible and fulfill the needs of the end users?
- Will they OWN the project?
- At the end of the project will they step up and acknowledge their part in the end product and enthusiastically support the roll-out?
- Can they be an objective liaison between the business and the project?
- Are they able to share the needs and concerns of both groups and communicate these to the business throughout the life of the project?
- Are you willing and able to clear their workload so they can focus on the project at least 80% of their time?
- While it may be painful for you to let someone with the right skillset go for the duration of the project, it is in your best interest to give them the time and support to focus their energies.
If you answered NO to any of these questions then the person you’ve chosen may not be the best one for the job. A SME needs to be involved and engaged. They are part of the project team. If they aren’t able to think big picture and then dig into the details to find solutions, if they are worried about their work load, if they have critical deadlines that will impact their job performance, then they’re putting the project on the back burner to simmer – and if left too long – it will burn. They need to have the time and temperament to blend the goals and objectives of the project with the goals and objectives of the business in such a way that when the project is done, the dish is served and it is enjoyed by all.