The project manager and team can only go so far with the project sponsor in getting the planning portion of the project off the ground. Absolutely key to planning, business process definition, requirements definition and documentation and even testing is the customer subject matter expert or SME.
When leading a project, the project manager and team usually want to get as much accurate input into the current business processes and what they need to be when the solution is implemented. The project sponsor can envision, champion, and hopefully fund the project, but as far as giving the project manager and team a real world technical expertise in this area…well, he usually doesn’t quite cut it. For what really needs to happen, who will be affected, how things really need to ‘work’ upon implementation, the project manager must track down end users and technical support individuals for the solution in the customer organizations. These individuals are what are called subject matter experts, or SMEs.
The project team – on the customer side – often includes key project technical members and (SMEs). Subject matter experts bring expert or technical assistance to the project. Team members should be listed in the project charter to establish their roles and commitment to the project and it is critical to include these subject matter experts as team members and advisors throughout the engagement. The table below lists the technical support that a project manager needs from subject matter experts – especially during the analysis phase of the project:
|Advise project manager on technology strategy||Offer technical advice and recommend strategy|
|Review current architecture||Review and document findings|
|Plan and motivate for technology||Offer technology support and motivations|
|Design the future technical architecture||Establish the future technical architecture|
|Build and assemble technical solution||Build and present the feasibility of the solution|
|Test the technical solution||Prepare test cases and scenarios and perform testing of the technical solution|
The bottom line is that the project manager who fails to seek out and include the right subject matter experts is likely to deliver an end solution that isn’t 100% dead-on. The result will be a customer who is less than satisfied and a solution that may not deliver the expected or desired results. It’s understandable that we don’t want to include every SME possible on the project. A project team that is too large can definitely become unwieldy and actually slow things down. But a proper mix of SMEs – especially from different departments if that is applicable – can really help the project team construct the right solution and deliver the expected results.
The responsibility for project success – whether they like it or not and whether they can always control it or not – rests with the project manager. I think we can all agree with that statement. But the project manager and his team rely heavily on the project customer team’s subject matter experts to aid in the success of the final solution by participating in business process review, requirements definition and user acceptance testing. The SMEs are critical to success and without them the delivery team would be lost during requirements definition and testing. The SMEs availability – whoever they may be – is absolutely critical for project success.