Whoa “SME”, What am I to do?

World's Best SME mug

All companies have these wonderful individuals: Subject Matter Experts.  These are your ‘go-to’ resources.  These are the men and women who not only know their job inside and out, but also fully understand what goes on up-stream, down-stream and any-where in between.  As great as these staff members are, they are an inherent risk because of who they are, what they do, and what they know.

Because of their knowledge, these are the first resources tapped for any strategic company efforts to build or enhance products, systems, or processes.  To say they are in demand is an understatement.  Truth be told, these individuals are more than likely to be over-allocated on projects, leaving them with minimal capacity to spend on commitments, including their “day-job”.  The risk here is that the individual may unintentionally become a roadblock to efficiently moving work forward.  An example of this would be a SME that needs to review and sign off on requirements while trying to complete month-end production reports.

Since a SME has valuable knowledge, the steps and tasks are most likely in their head, and not on paper.  Given the demand on a SME’s time, finding time to document or even update procedures, is not a priority.  If something were to happen and the SME was not available, could someone step in and do all the aspects of their job?

It is clear that companies depend on their SME’s and would be lost without them.  This is exactly why companies need to take steps to ensure that they can remove operational risk and mitigate the risk of loss by providing support to get out of a single source of dependency that they have on a SME.  Taking the time to document your SME’s job can bring relief to the company as well as to the SME.  Although there would be an additional strain on your SME’s time, the benefits to having the documentation to train others or provide backup knowledge would be invaluable.

Whether you stay internal, or look externally, having an objective view of your organization and its policies and processes is a worthwhile effort.  During this assessment, you can identify your vulnerabilities and put corrective actions in place to address both short-term and long-term solutions.  Experienced consultants can assist in creating process maps that identify areas of opportunity – whether it is to document procedures or re-align workload assignments.  Anything you can do now to help your SME’s will pay dividends over the long haul.  Taking these steps could actually increase the number of SME’s within a company, as well as reduce the demand on a specific individual’s time, allowing daily tasks and add-on work to get accomplished in a more efficient manner.  A happier SME could lead to a valuable employee not feeling burned out and staying with your company longer.