Project Managers: This One’s For You

Preparing for a major documentation project or training initiative can feel like an arduous task, especially when it means getting multiple stakeholders and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) on board. If you’re equipped with the tools to quickly and clearly prepare your team for a project before it begins, however, your project will run more smoothly and your end results will be that much better.

Here’s where we recommend you begin.

Your Communication Plan: Prep Your SMEs for a More Productive Project

Start with a proactive awareness-building communication to let the SMEs know about the upcoming project. Keep in mind whether the SME has volunteered for or been assigned to the project as you customize your message. Explain:

  1. The background. Lay out why you are capturing knowledge, creating a training module, or writing a manual, as appropriate.
  2. The benefits. Include how the project supports overall business objectives and make the value to the organization clear.
  3. The intended audience. Showcase the vision for the project and help the SME tailor their content with the right end-user in mind.
  4. The project timeline. Let SMEs know if there is a specific deadline imposed by an impending event, product release, plant opening, or other launch.

Next, communicate what the SMEs should expect and what is expected from them. For a deeper dive into this, see our recent blog post on setting SME expectations. In general, team members can expect:

  1. Interviews and observation. A writer will interview the SME and possibly job shadow them to gather content as needed.
  2. Appropriate follow-up. After the initial content gathering, the writer may send along additional questions to fill in any gaps and to clarify understanding of material.
  3. Initial review. Once the writer has completed a draft of the deliverable, the SME can expect to review the draft for accuracy of the content. Encourage the SME to allot sufficient time for this, as many people underestimate the time allocation required for a thorough review of the content.
  4. Final review. After initial edits have been made, the SME should plan to review the final draft to make sure all comments have been incorporated into the document.
  5. A potential pilot. In some cases, the SME may also be included in piloting the deliverable, post-pilot changes, or new instructions/steps. This especially comes into play in projects involving creation of manuals or training related to operating a system or product, conducting repairs, or completing internal procedures. Let your SMEs know that their commitment may extend beyond the initial deliverable if that seems at all likely.

Finally, let the SMEs know what they can do to prepare for the project. Save everyone some time by encouraging them to:

  1. Gather any existing content. This might include current or past manuals, previous training materials, relevant diagrams, user feedback on existing training material or manuals, FAQs from customers, previously conducted surveys, or even handwritten notes.
  2. Recognize competing commitments. Project involvement can take a significant amount of an SME’s time, so encourage them to determine if they can offload any obligations for the duration of the project, or at least determine whether there are ways to mitigate any additional draw on their available time.

As is often the case, you will find that a little bit of proactive communication will go a long way. Your SMEs will feel better prepared and less apprehensive, your project will move more quickly, and the training or documentation professionals you work with will thank you. We have found this communication process to be extremely helpful, and we would love to hear how it works for you!