Maximizing the Effectiveness of a Subject Matter Expert


how to best provide the means for the SME to be effective. The QA manager should provide the guidelines and criteria for conducting consistent, homogenous meetings.

Peer Review Procedures
Many companies use an SME to help refine test requirements and test cases. But does the SME understand what forms will be used for providing peer reviews? And more importantly, how does the project know that the SME has reviewed all the necessary material and been given a chance to report her feedback?

The QA manager should elicit feedback from the SME and establish recurring meetings that ensure that all of the SME's questions, concerns, and issues have been answered. Furthermore, before the departure of the SME, the QA manager should determine whether the SME met and fulfilled all her roles, objectives, and expectations. For instance, if the SME was only able to review 70% of all testable requirements, the QA manager may want to postpone the SME's departure until she has had a chance to peer review all of the testable requirements.

Document Lessons Learned
To foster an environment of continuous process improvements, the QA manager should strive to document all issues, suggestions, and problems that the SME reports.

An SME may find that there were problems with workshops or with the preparation of materials. She may discover that her business area was not properly represented or that she did not have proper training on a test management tool that she needed to review requirements. No matter how trivial the suggestion or reported issue seems, the QA manager should identify and document the problem and take corrective action. The objective is to eliminate the problem or implement the suggestion and ensure that the SME's input is not ignored.

Establish a POC
The QA manager can assign a point of contact for the SME. The POC can help the SME with administrative tasks such as making travel reservations, or give her directions to local establishments. This person will also serve as the liaison between the SME's managers and the local project, providing feedback and helping the SME prioritize her workload and assignments at the project. The POC is especially helpful in aiding the SME's transition for long-term, out-of-town assignments.

SME Selection Criteria
Selecting a suitable SME and evaluating the attributes of an SME are activities that are often sidestepped or ignored. Because a project may have to bring in more than one SME from a given area, the selection process can be time-consuming and warrants much cogitation. Potential criteria factors for evaluating an SME are hereby presented:

  • Domain Expertise
    Does the SME understand the company's supply chain systems and how this application interacts with applications from vendors and suppliers? Does she have knowledge about the roles and duties associated with running the company's supply chain systems or about the architecture of the supply chain system?
  • Business Process Expertise
    Does the SME have knowledge of the existing legacy systems for payroll, and if so, can she provide test data from the existing payroll application? Does the SME know how the company currently replenishes inventory levels? Is she familiar with the levels of approvals and notifications necessary for replenishing inventory?
  • Methodology Expertise
    If the project is adhering to a methodology that is predicated on RUP or CMM, does the SME understand this methodology? Does she understand the procedures for documenting peer reviews or in which automated test tools the requirements and test cases are stored?
  • Recognized Competence
    Is the SME recommended by her peers and managers based on years of experience? Or is a manager merely volunteering the SME because she does not

User Comments

1 comment
Naomi Karten's picture
Naomi Karten

Interesting! This sounds like an approach that can save a lot of wear and tear on everyone. Of course, sometimes a team member may identify a legitimate problem that the rest of the team doesn’t notice or understand, so the way that team member explains it to the others – and the tone of voice he/she uses in explaining it -- may have a bearing on whether the team accepts it as a problem. ~Naomi

March 5, 2013 - 6:46pm

About the author

AgileConnection is a TechWell community.

Through conferences, training, consulting, and online resources, TechWell helps you develop and deliver great software every day.