Working with subject matter experts (SMEs) is an on-going challenge for any technical writer. SMEs could be a business analyst, program manager, developer or designer. Usually SMEs give a first-hand experience of the product or application. So you love it or hate it; SME is an inevitable point of contact for information gathering.
You might come across many types of SMEs. Some could be extremely temperamental while some are easy going. Yes, there is one more category, absentee SME. Any time you try to reach them, they are either busy or non-reachable. Even the easy going SMEs could be equally dangerous as they don’t give a heed on what you say and agree to everything. But no matter how tough is your SME, extracting information is part of a technical writer’s job profile and you ought to be very good at it.
Following are few suggestions which usually work well for me.
Sending your queries through Email is passé. SMEs are usually busy; so there is a very slim chance to get timely response from them. Hence it’s better to make a direct approach. Go to their cubicles for a face-to-face discussion.
It’s not unusual to find your SMEs not turning up for discussion even after accepting your meeting invite. To avoid such situation, do send reminders of your meetings. It’s ideal to send reminders one day or one hour before the scheduled meeting.
Do your homework before interviewing the SMEs. It’s better to prepare a set of questionnaire which you can ask during the discussion.
Remember, it pays to build up rapport with your SMEs. An offline chit-chat near the cafeteria is a not a bad idea. Try talking on common interest topics. You never know, these offline discussions might help in building camaraderie with your SME.
While sending your documents for review, don’t forget to set a timeline for the review process. If the SME doesn’t turn up, you can send reminders to make him review the document in time.
Finally, if your organization follows agile methodology, you can always bring up constraints related to information gathering or document reviews during the Scrum meetings. Your Scrum Master will try to ensure you get all the co-operation from your SMEs.
Got any better idea on how to handle SMEs? Please do share it with us.
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