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Training Your Subject Matter Experts

As a consultant, versatility is key. The business industries of different customers can vary wildly, so you may find yourself working with a business where the initial sum of your industry knowledge is straight off of Wikipedia. As you ramp up, you learn more, but you simply don’t have the time to invest to be fully acquainted with every nook and cranny of the business. This is perfectly fine because, after all, you were brought on to the project as a consultant rather than an employee.

The key to progressing with your work is utilizing your subject matter experts. If you thought that transitioning industries was jarring, then buckle your seatbelt because your subject matter experts come in many, many different flavors. While you may be a whiz in business analysis, this is where your communication skills will be put to the test.

While your job is to get complete information, your subject matter experts may be so entrenched that they feel that the details of their processes should be common knowledge. You must explain to them that the details are important. You can do this by walking them through information gathering. Host a session where you creation the document or open a tool and begin by asking many questions. When things are unclear to you, ask more question. Even if things are clear, ask questions! Soon the subject matter experts will understand the necessity of details and they will understand the importance of including the who, what, when, where, why, and how of everything that they do. After the session, pass the document to them to complete a draft. Ask them to repeat back to you the task that you are asking them to do to ensure that they have a good idea of how to proceed.

When you receive the draft, review it and note your questions. If there are few questions, then you can ask them to address the problems and sign off on the document. Congratulations, you just executed the task perfectly! Of course, you will rarely encounter this scenario, so you must consider the how to proceed when you don’t get the information you need. If the subject matter experts have missed the mark completely, host another session where you critique some of their work and ask them to demonstrate how they would continue to make changes. Once you are satisfied with with their ability, let them take another pass at drafting the information you need.

If the information still isn’t what you are seeking, try to salvage what is there. Remove the obfuscations as best as you can and present it to the subject matter experts as your understanding of the material. If they make any suggestions, incorporate them. When corrections arise, simply update and manage the requirements as necessary.

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