As you prepare for your project I am sure that you will have a lot of conversations about the different roles and responsibilities that you will need to resource internally.

One of the key roles for project success is the humble Subject Matter Expert (SME). This role provides business and process expertise input to the project but I would argue that there are other softer skills and behaviours that we should also be looking for when fulfilling this role, and these skills are vital for successful transformation.

So what does a SME do?

The SME team is made up of representatives from each business area covered by the project. Through pre-project requirements gathering, and then with the development partner in the discovery phase, the SMEs need to describe, in detail, what they do, and what they need the system to do to support their processes. They will be asked to review and sign-off specifications or user stories that relate to their jobs.

Through the development phase they will then receive and test the system functionality, potentially creating test scripts and acceptance criteria, to ensure that it works, and then sign-off that their area of the system is ready for go-live.

They are the champion for their area of work.

Champions for change

Clearly, the SMEs need to know their business processes and requirements, or at the very least know where and how to get this information, to be able to brief the partner organisation. But let’s consider what else an SME represents; they are a champion for your change project.

We must not lose sight of the fact that your project will lead to change. The tech is there to facilitate your business transformation; additional efficiencies, better relationships with your stakeholders, more opportunities to innovate and develop your service. The ‘old ways’ of doing things will need to adapt to the new system to take full advantage of the opportunities it offers.

Your SMEs are at the forefront of this change. They need to be able to think creatively, focus on the end goal rather than the steps in the process, be flexible in approach, and buy-into new ways of doing things. It is this attitude that will open up the opportunities of the new system, and best support your objectives for the project.

Your SMEs need to embrace the change and then champion this to their colleagues. At the most basic level this will involve rolling down training and first-line support to other system users, but there is more to the role than this. A passion and enthusiasm for the ‘new way’ should sit alongside their understanding of the system and is a major driver for the wider team’s acceptance of change in the lead up to, and after, your go-live.

In my experience SME teams are often selected solely because of their knowledge of their business areas. In my opinion, it is their belief in the benefit of change that truly leads to project success.

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