Subject: SMEs
From: Suzy Davis <aedavis -at- IBM -dot- NET>
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 1997 10:42:02 -0800


I've work mostly on corporate projects, and I'm often the only technical writer present. Depending on which SW company is developing or re-writing the system a SME may be allocated to the project, or they may have never heard of a SME. In some jobs I have been expected to rely solely on programmers for help. Yikes!

If a SME was available - no problem.
Programmers, on the other hand, are next to useless when it comes to providing user context and checking the accuracy of my work. I get a SME allocated, by asking to be introduced to the manager whose department will be using the new system and ask him to nominate staff members to assist me. I may also confirm this request by email - people usually are quite helpful if they think you've got something in writing. If the environment is politically hot, I put every request in writing. If I have a meeting with someone I send them an email confirming what we discussed and agreed. It has come in handy a lot of times.

Once I have a SME or a staff member acting as a SME established I then work in the following way:
1) I do as much of the work as I can on my own. I obtain as much information from the development team and from the system's specifications (if they exist - and yes, I have worked on a project with no specs!), and I compile a running list of any questions I have.
2) I email or provide the questions to the SME or staff member either on a daily or weekly basis, as they prefer. I advise them that I prefer to do this daily, and I emphasize that some days there will be no questions. Obviously it depends on the system how often is feasible.
3) If possible, I follow a couple of staff around for a day to see how they do their work and how the new system will fit into their job.
4) I make up a lot. I write sections on how I think the department will use the system. And then I give the section to the staff member to edit. (I'm fairly good at this and I find that most SMEs, managers and staff are busy and as such they find it easy to edit and add to an existing document than think up things to tell me from scratch).

I also 'hijack' staff I recognize from the department while they are getting a cup of coffee, going to their car, or pass in the hallway and ask quick questions rather than putting the whole SME workload on the designated staff member. (Obviously this depends on circumstances - there are times when this is not appropriate).

Some of the people I've worked with have been extremely busy saving mines in crisis, or getting briefs to court and are already working a hundred hours a week - and need a new system like a hole in the head, but because they see that I have gone everywhere else for my information before bugging them, and expecting them to do my work for them, they have managed to squeeze in some time to answer my questions.

Hope this helps.
Suzy Davis
Senior Technical Writer
aedavis -at- ibm -dot- net

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