7 Time Saving Tips for Working with SMEs


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These slides address how you can prepare SMEs so that your development work is streamlined. The basic premise behind these 7 tips is that you need to spend time upfront to save more time later. These tips were presented as part of the eLearning Guild Conference. The session title was "Thriving as a One-Person eLearning Department."

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  • Thanks Lisa. In our session description for today said we would cover how to prepare SMEs so that your development work is streamlined. Some, if not all of these, may sound familiar to you if you’ve been to any session about how to work with SMEs, but I wanted to share this information with you because when I first began my work building online courses as a stop 1 stop shop, I found myself cutting corners to try and save time. The problem was that I was cutting the wrong corners and I was often times in the position of needing to redo my work. The basic premise behind the 7 specific strategies I will share with you today is that you need to spend time upfront to save more time later.
  • The first strategy is to provide your SME with an orientation of the tools you have available to you and how a course will be shared whether it be through your LMS, a regular web page or even a CD. Don’t expect your SMEs to deliver you content for an online course until you’ve informed them of what their online course could look like. If you don’t provide them with an orientation, you could be in for a big surprise when you get content back from your SME and you are both going to have to double back to fix the course.
  • Make sure your SME understands the capacity of your tools and your delivery mechanism. If you are using Articulate, show them examples of what Articulate can do. If you are using Lectora, show them what Lectora can do, but most importantly, show them what you can do with the tool based upon the time allotted for the project, and your skills! This is key----you need to make sure your SME understands what’s possible in the time allotted for the project. Don’t leave your SME with the impression that anything is possible if you’ve got a tight timeline.
  • Share concrete examples of what you and your development tool are capable of. Before I began sharing concrete examples of what was possible, I was spending a lot of extra time with my my SMEs because they didn’t have a vision for how their content could be transformed into an online format. So to compensate for this, I starting sharing specific examples. This small step did 3 things. 1. it provided the SMEs with the context of what their course could be like 2. for those SMEs were lacking imagination they began to see new ways their content could come alive and 3. I was spending less time on the phone.
  • You can find examples of elearning courses in a number of places. A common development tool is Articulate and they have a great library of examples. Whatever tool you are using to develop your courses in, be sure to visit their product website for specific examples that you can share with your SME, and don’t forget to show your SME what you’ve already created! Keep an online portfolio of what you’ve created and let your SME see your work so they can understand what you are capable of. Lastly, be sure to provide guided tours of specific examples you’ve selected to point out particular features or problems…..Focus. Your. SME.How many of you have unlimited time to create trainings? How many of you feel your timelines are often times too tight?If you don’t provide specific examples of courses you are capable of creating, and offer up explanation about what they are seeing, you may find yourself in receipt of some lofty requests that simply are not possible in your timeframe. Unless you are willing to go any direction with your course and you’ve got unlimited time, focus your SME on examples that you can do in the timeframe allotted.
  • <audience read slide>Have you been in this situation before? To save yourself and your SME a lot time, and to avoid awkward moments like these, make sure that your SME is aware of what’s possible from the beginning, and more importantly what’s not possible. If you do that you wont need to back track and try and figure out a new plan after you’ve already created something. Spend the time upfront to save time later.
  • When working with your SME, be sure they clearly understand the basic foundation of how their course should be setup. What I’m talking about here is how the course should be organized so things like chapters, lessons, or vignettes. Make sure you provide this information to them in writing so that if there is ever a question of he said she said, you can always refer back to that email or signed contract that outlined this information. If you don’t clarify the structure of the course content, you are likely to find yourself reorganizing and reworking what your SME sent you.
  • Before I wised up, I was just shooting off an email that outlined the structure of the course based upon our planning conversations, but I was still getting content back that missing the structure elements and I would have to bounce it back to my SME and ask them to provide what was missing or to rework the content. This often then pushed back dates on my timeline. So, to compensate for this, I decided a checklist might be a good idea. Since implementing its use I’ve found it to be rather efficient and effective way to collect organized content from my SME. Give your SME a checklist of the course structure requirements and have them refer to that before they begin their work, and before they submit their work to you. If you have an expectation that your SME will provide a description or summary, specifically state that need. If there is an expectation that your course be divided into chapters, you need to make sure your SME understands that. If you have any expectations about what a chapter should look like such as having an introduction and some sort of learning check per chapter, you need to specify that. Be explicit!Often times, the SME is chosen because of their expertise, not because of their background in instructional design, so make sure they have a foundation to work from. If you’re not explicit, you’re going to have to spend time chasing your SME down for what you need and you will quickly see your production schedule pushed back, or you’ll end up with some late nights.
  • Save yourself some time and grief, because bouncing back content after a SME things they just turned in final content can get real dicey and it’s a huge time suck for both of you. So to prevent any hair pulling, inform and inform in writing.
  • Dealing with course assets such as images and video can be confusing for your SMEs and it can be a nightmare for you so make sure you let your SME knows how they should be providing you with content, including text based content, and assets such as images. If you don’t, you may find yourself spending extra time trying to understand what goes where. One time I was provided with a giant pdf, and a complicated system of cross referenced files that I had to obtain through sharepoint.
  • In the beginning I was just using MS Word to collect content and SMEs would just indicate where page breaks were. The problem was that I often couldn’t tell which pieces of content were meant to be shown on-screen, and what was supposed to be the script. I found that I was spending a lot of time on the phone or engaged in email exchanges clarifying the SMEs intent. To battle this I decided I needed to abandoned the standard word processing format and I encouraged SMEs to provide me with content using PowerPoint and I’m glad I did. SMEs have a MUCH better sense of what each screen might look like because they can easily think of each slide as a screen, and they know that the notes section of the PPT slide is for their script. In addition to the reduction in clarification calls and emails, I found that I was also producing each course more quickly because everything was so much more organized and clear. You should use whatever approach is the fastest for you, but if you haven’t tried his approach you may want to. Google Docs also has their version of PowerPoint, Presentation. It is as useful plus the presentation can be shared for collaboration.
  • Here’s a very simple example of what I might see on a PowerPoint slide that is delivered to me. The slide contains what they want the user to see (above yellow line), and in the notes section of PowerPoint (below the yellow line in this example) I can see what is to be spoken along with a note/instruction to me. As I said before, using this method for collecting content has resulted in a huge time savings for me, and it’s simple and very straightforward for SMEs.
  • So let’s talk a little bit about images. My first piece of advice is to have your SME select images, not you. You may need to fill in the blanks here and there, but it is MUCH faster to have the content experts make decisions about images specific to the content. I’ve lost a lot of time searching for images that in the end were cut because they didn’t accurately reflect the SMEs intent. Classic examples for me were the kids were too old, or the activity in the images was not developmentally appropriate for the age---all things the content experts could easily determine.If you have a photo service you would like them to use such as iStockphoto or Shutterstock, provide them with access to your account and ask them to make the selection. This is one of those tasks you can “gift” as Lisa discussed. If you don’t want to give them direct access to your account, you can have them locate the image they want and then note the reference number and service the image is from. They can also insert a comp from the photo service, like I’ve done here.
  • What approaches or tools do you use to collect content?
  • Before we move on to the 5th strategy, I just want to remind you all to make sure that your SME and your project manager understand that they are providing you with final content. Don’t start your work until you know you have final content! It is of course to be expected that there will be some minor edits along the way, but there’s no better way to add unexpected time to the development of your course than by having someone come in and start re-arranging your course. Often times this causes a downward spiral effect. Not only do you need to spend time working on something that should’ve already been taken care of, you also need to go back and pickup any other dominoes that may have fallen as a result of these unexpected edits.
  • Now that you’ve prepped your SME and specified how you need to obtain course content, your SME is ready to get to work. Make sure that early on in the development process that you give you and your SME a chance to touch base to verify that they are assembling their course content and prepping it as you need it. I’ve been in the position before of where I received final content from a SME in a format that was really disorganized and I needed to spend a lot of extra time sorting out what the SME meant. Had we touched base earlier, I wouldn’t have had such a mess on my hands.
  • Have you been in this position before?Unfortunately, I’ve been the guy in the purple shirt saying “we need to talk” right after the SME provided me with final content. It’s an uncomfortable position to be in, AND it means 1 of 2 things. 1. Either I need to bounce the content back to the SME which isn’t going to make them happy and it’s going to alter the production schedule and push back the launch date or 2. I’m going to have to spend extra time fixing this.To reduce ugly scenarios like this and to save yourself from late nights, ask to see the SMEs work early on as a first draft—take a look at their first chapter or lesson. When I receive it, I go through it thoroughly and make sure I understand their organization, that they met course structure requirements, lesson objectives, and I make sure understand their notes about any special things that needs to happen with the content. This is your chance to get your SME on the right track so that you can receive complete, and clean FINAL content that will be easier and faster for you build out.Giving feedback can feel uncomfortable, but it’s better received during a draft stage.
  • Sharing your work is a two way street. The SME showed you what they were doing, and now it’s time for you to do the same. Even the best laid plans don’t always result in a positive outcome so give yourself some insurance. Once you’ve received the final content from your SME, build out a chapter or lesson in its entirety to make sure that your SME and or your project manager is happy with how the course will look and how it will operate.
  • If you’re off base, you’re only into it for 1 chapter or lesson versus the entire course so put the time into a single chapter or lesson.
  • One of the most important things you are going to need to do for yourself is to put together production schedule to meet your deadlines, and probably even more challenging you and your SME need to adhere to it.
  • Working backwards from your intended launch date, create your production schedule. Explain to your SME the types of things that will add significant time to your production schedule. If you find you are tight on time, you need to have a conversation with your SME and let them know that maybe some of the features they would like to have, won’t be possible. Have that conversation early on, so that there are no surprises later. Failure to create a schedule and to have a discussion about what’s possible in the time allotted could be deadly for you.
  • As with any production schedule or timeline, there are due dates. If due dates are not hit, things get backed up or pushed back and that typically falls on you because you are the last person to work on the course. How many of you have been in this position and want to avoid it?
  • Here’s a strategy for you….it’s not a guarantee, but I have found that it has helped me a lot. Try doing the following. Create the production schedule with direct input from the SME. Once you have agreed upon a schedule, highlight key dates that if missed, will impact your ability to meet the launch date. AND here’s the important part that most of us never address. Explain that if those dates are missed that your hands are tied...there are only so many hours in a day and you have other work commitments as well. If you are working around holidays, vacations, or other projects, you need to let your SME know about those things, and explain the impact in providing you with late content. Make sure that your project manager is aware of the timeline and understands that if content is late that your work will be late. It’s very important you do do this.
  • Despiteyour best efforts, you will still end up with some SMEs that are late and still hold an expectation that you can meet the original deadline. So what can you do???
  • You need to say no, unless you really can do it without some ridiculous sacrifice. When you need to say no, refer back to the production schedule that you both agreed upon and let them (the SME and/or your project manager) know what is reasonable and remind them of the conversation you had early on about why missing the deadline is so problematic. If logic and the simple word “NO” doesn’t work….
  • Try crying. Does anyone have any other suggestions?
  • Lets move on and talk a little bit about the production schedule itself. You can use something as basic as an excel spreadsheet, be sure to specify what is to be done, who is doing it, and when it needs to be completed by. In addition to that I suggest adding start dates! Before I was including start dates on my schedule I was finding that I didn’t have enough time to complete a project by the due date, because I waited too long to start it because it didn’t show up on my radar until I was pretty close to the due date.
  • Once you’ve created your schedule you need to use it…don’t let it die out in the archives of your computer files. It’s pointless unless you use it. You need to look at it daily, and you need to send it to anyone that was identified on the schedule. Additionally, you will need to send out reminders to your SME or anyone else on your schedule to help you and everyone else stay on track. There are tools that can help you with that, and I will be sharing a task management tool later, but for now, I just want to reiterate the importance of sticking to the schedule.
  • If you can do these 7 things with your SME, you will save yourself a lot of time and hair pulling. So remember:Plan to spend time orienting your SMEShow them the capacity of the tool you are usingShow them examples of completed courses Clarify how the course should be structuredSpecify how you need content and assetsReview a draft of the SME’s workShare a build of a chapterCreate and agree upon a production schedule
  • 7 Time Saving Tips for Working with SMEs

    1. 1. spend time upfront to save more time later
    2. 2. 1 orient your SME
    3. 3. show them what YOUcan do with the tool
    4. 4. 2 Share examples
    5. 5. Articulate eLearning Example Blog & Heroeshttp://community.articulate.com/blogs/elearning-examples/Elearning Exampleshttp://elearningexamples.com/Lectorahttp://lectora.com/sample-coursesYou!www.yourname/examples.com
    6. 6. Oh Crap!
    7. 7. 3clarify the structure of course content
    8. 8. Don’t let this be you!
    9. 9. 4specify how you want course assets
    10. 10. specify exactly how you want to receive your content
    11. 11. string brass string string woodwindStrings, brass and woodwinds all have very distinct sounds.Note to Rebecka: Please make each instrument have arelated sound on rollover.
    12. 12. Some birds like to eat fish.Rebecka: Use image: 21305982 from iStockPhoto
    13. 13. What approaches/tools doyou use to collect content? T: #1PDept
    14. 14. 5ask to review content in progress
    15. 15. It’s AWESOME, right?! We Need to Talk
    16. 16. 6 demo a chapter or lesson
    17. 17. Ha ha! At least I don’thave to redo thewhole thing!
    18. 18. 7create & agree upon a production schedule
    19. 19. Sophisticated Branching Complex 3D
    20. 20. Create schedule with SMEHighlight key dates with consequencesDemonstrate why it’s problematic
    21. 21. What Who Start DueWrite first chapter for review. Jen 9/15 9/30Review first chapter. Rebecka 10/2 10/5Design and customize Lectora template Rebecka 10/5 10/10
    22. 22. Orient your SME and demonstratethe capacity of the toolShare examples of coursesClarify course structureSpecify how you need content/assetsReview the SME’s workShare a build of a chapterCreate production schedule
    23. 23. Created by Rebecka Andersonwww.anotherconcept.com