Re: Trouble working with a SME

Subject: Re: Trouble working with a SME
From: Garret Romaine <GRomaine -at- MSMAIL -dot- RADISYS -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 31 Oct 1996 09:26:00 PST

Melinda offered this situation for review:

my manager and I find ourselves head-to-head with one
programmer far too often.

<he wants to> receive an explanation for each suggestion that we do not
(???). It has never been our standard practice to provide feedback to
reviewers on why we don't take some suggestions. My gut reaction is that
this is a bad idea (in part because explanations when given are rarely
accepted and usually spawn a long e-mail exchange designed to convince me
that he is right), but I want to make sure I am looking at this
objectively. He has told us that he considers us rude and disrespectful
because we don't provide this feedback.

Well, you definitely have a problem; it sounds like it was building for

You're probably going to have to sit down with the SME in a meeting room and
go over the comments page by page. If you can bring other review copies, you
should, in case you need rebuttal info. I don't think any long-distance
methods are going to work anymore. You can't just use e-mail bullet lists;
like you say, you only get an explosion of e-mail as a reward. And sending
him back his old review with annotations in the columns won't work, because
he seems to crave face time.

I would be sure to complement the SME copiously to start the meeting,
acknowledging his prowess and try to get him to calm down. He seems to want
some pats on the back for what a good job he does. I've used this line a few
times: "Dude, you would have made a formidable tech writer." Once they're
set up, I usually lower the boom by then steering the conversation to the
reasons why they would still report to me; comments like, "Most of the books
I've written..." or "The last award I won" or "What the field really thanked
me for" etc. I'm sure there are arrows in your quiver just waiting to be

The point is to steer them to the realization that you do your job well, you
are writing as part of a team, including marketing, support, *and*
engineering, and when push comes to shove, it's your job on the line, not
theirs. If you need to bring in a shill who says "The manuals are great.
Don't change a thing! *Brawk!*" whenever prompted, you can probably find one
in tech support.

As a side note, I don't think it is good practice to completely ignore
review comments, even if they are three question marks in the margin. I
usually just wander over to the reviewer's cube and plop down in a chair,
then go over what was skipped. Or I e-mail back a "what were you thinking?"
note. Other times, I promise to file good general suggestions for future
use. I've even implemented a couple.

If things escalate, your boss and the SME's boss are going to have to talk.
Somebody is going to get the "you have to be a team player" lecture, and
it's going to show up on a review. It's a pity you can't take this SME to
lunch and launch a pre-emptive strike along the "we're both going to suffer"

Garret Romaine
gromaine -at- radisys -dot- com

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