I noticed Jane Bozarth’s blog posting concerning a lively discussion on “Tips for Working with SMEs?” My blog post on handling subject matter experts back in January also seemed to stimulate discussion. I am currently working on my PhD. dissertation proposal on contributing factors to expertise-sharing between the SME and the design team. Project success depends on several factors, starting with achieving respect between the two parties. This goal is best attained through mutual understanding. The SME should be educated on the process and technicalities of interactive computer program design and execution. The development team member bonding with the SME starts with a better understanding of the types of expertise. Respect can then move beyond mere protocol.

In the book Expertise in Context, edited by Paul J. Feltovich, Kenneth M. Ford, and Robert R. Hoffman, Chapter Six author Robert J. Sternberg outlines what constitutes an expert and provides nine views of an expert:

  1. General Process: experts who solve problems using different processes than non-experts.
  2. Quality of Knowledge: according to which experts simply know more than do non-experts—memory must play a role or ability to quickly find the information.
  3. Knowledge Organization: according to which experts organize their knowledge more effectively than non-experts.
  4. Superior Analytical Ability: ability to solve problems.
  5. Superior Creative Ability: ability to create new knowledge on the basis of the knowledge one already has.
  6. Superior Automatization: according to which experts do things more adeptly and automatically than do non-experts.
  7. Superior Practical Ability: “knowing the ropes” or knowing how to get ahead in one’s field of endeavor.
  8. Labeled an Expert: an expert by virtue of being labeled as such.
  9. Prototypical Expert: individuals have aspects of the above.

When you’re working with subject matter experts, look for different ways to show them respect by helping them demonstrate what combination of the above traits they possess. Can you think of ways you, as a member of the design team, can share your expertise with the SME?