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Working with SMEs - The Development Process

In a recent conversation with another budding IDer, she asked how I choose which direction I take a project for an indecisive SME. She had currently applied for a position that required her to develop materials for a project. She racked her brain and came up with the best direction for the project to present to the interview committee. After her presentation, she was faced with the following question, "This is nice, but I hate it. What do you do now?"

Really? You hate it? She asked the committee what they didn't like about it. Of course, she was met with the scariest answer of them all, "I don't know... I just don't like it." While we have all ran into these people in any line of work, it still doesn't make us feel better that others have been there. Over lunch, we discussed more on the topic when she asked for my opinion and how I deal with individuals like these (which I have...).

  • I try to realize as early as possible if I'm dealing with a SME or other stakeholder who has this type of personality.

When you realize early that your SME is not going to provide you feedback about what they like or don't like, it makes it easier (maybe not easier) to understand that you are going to need to be very clear about your expectations. I typically start with looking at their other work to see what type of format they are familiar with and try to stay within that realm. I back everything with data. When you provide a SME with data to back up your decisions (course evaluations, research, etc.) they tend to be more open to new ideas or methods for the design and development of the materials you are working on.

  • I do not fully develop materials for them in the design process.

When developing materials, I've found that if you spend all of your time trying to develop a finalized version of what they want you may actually waste more time in the long run. Why? Because you spend all of your time vested in this one project only to have them hate it - and then, you must start over. I will develop 2-3 rough drafts of the materials (not super detailed, but enough to get an idea of the concept). I present them with the 2-3 drafts and have them pick the route to go. Once a route has been determined, I break the material into chucks and develop one at a time - having them check after each chunk.

While developing 2-3 rough drafts seems like a lot of work, I actually save these pieces and keep for other projects. I have all of these drafts saved when I work with others to see which style they like. It also helps in my consulting process because I'm able to provide them with a few ideas and see if one of them meets their fancy. I prefer to work this way as it helps me come up with different ideas. When I then have down time, I can come back to those 2 pieces that we didn't more forward with and revisit them and move forward after having sometime to step away and reflect on my design ideas. I would be lying if I told you each one was a great idea and they were all perfect. Sometimes I come back to a draft and have *not a clue* what my original direction was. I just throw it back into the pile to revisit later.

This method may not work for you; then again, it may. I've learned that there is no right or wrong way to be an instructional designer. In The Accidental Instructional Designer, they stated the following:

"Be more of a mixologist than a bartender. Don't just use the same old recipe day after day, but think like an innovative cook, willing to try out new blends and sauces to see what happens. Ask people to taste them and see what they like, and - more importantly - find what makes a difference to the business in terms of measurable results and outcomes."

I hope this helps you in your own process and development of materials for those pesky indecisive SMEs.


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