Cw Resource2 Engagement

Managing Subject Matter Expert Engagement via Project Momentum

I have been laboring…writing my dissertation chapters for the last seven months. My topic: What Factors Enable Collaboration between the SME and the IDD teams?

Suddenly. Brainstorm! I realized that my Ph.D. dissertation project has its own project momentum.  The better I had organized my writing time, writing environment, and completion goals, the more engaged and passionate I became and the more I seemed to get done: analysis, reflection, and writing.

SME is an important person

And so it is with managing eLearning development projects, especially as it relates to engaging the subject matter expert (SME). You know the SME is very important and busy person. The SME is the content domain expert! All knowing and all powerful. Many people in your organization want a share of the SME’s time. There may be no extra compensation given to the SME for working on and caring deeply about your eLearning project. So how can you inspire and keep the SME engaged in your project? The answer: increase collaboration between your instructional design and development (IDD) team and the expert.

Increase Collaboration between IDD team and Expert

I have identified five factors that enable collaboration.

  1. Formative evaluation planning
  2. Communication planning focused on expertise sharing
  3. Project managing an iterative process
  4. Implementation of “Program level” decisions that level power relationships
  5. Leading & Managing for project momentum

Bacharach’s Model Applied to eLearning Project Momentum

I was inspired by Samuel Bacharach of Cornell, after purchasing his book on Amazon. I would like to start by explaining his model of managing for project momentum within the eLearning development world, and then add my four factors that enable collaboration within each of his model’s four dimensions. My fifth factor is managing project momentum.

Samuel Bacharach (see his blog here) has provided a model to help manage momentum and, when combined with my factors, should help to keep the SME on your side. In his book Leading and Managing for Momentum: Keep Them On Your Side, Backarach outlines four dimensions of momentum:

Structural, Performance, Cultural, and Political.

If you are a manager of an eLearning project you can keep your SME engaged by thinking about and managing these four dimensions of momentum along with my four team collaboration-enabling factors.


The “structural dimension” of managing an eLearning project means assembling the instructional design and development team members with the appropriate skills, giving them the hardware and software required and allocating the time necessary to accomplish the iterative project goals (Agile development method).

The “performance dimension” means making a commitment to formal formative evaluation, whether for public relations-project image enhancement, product improvement, or to increase the propensity to conduct post-mortem (after each user testing session) reflection exercises with the SME.

The “cultural dimension” means being aware of your group’s communication culture. Are you providing a project team site so all members are copied in and deadlines and documents are posted in a central location? Are you promoting a culture of expertise sharing? This goes both ways. Your IDD team members must inform the expert as to how the eLearning technology can turn content into an interactive learner experience. This also includes supporting an environment to keep group members “socially and psychologically motivated.”

The “political dimension” involves knowing who within your organization is on-board with your project.  It also means, on a programmatic level, setting up an atmosphere that empowers your IDD team. Do your staff view themselves as experts? Do you promote professional development that truly positions your IDD team members as professionals? Are you equipping the IDD team with tools and templates that enhance day-to-day professionalism?  Does your office environment have the trappings of a private sector creative boutique to promote cultural self-esteem?

My research findings suggest that there are five factors that can enable collaboration between your team members and the subject matter expert. Four of these factors fit nicely into Backarach’s model.

The four factors that enable collaboration between IDD team and expert include:

  1. Sharpen your project management know-how and managing disciplined iterative development cycles
  2. Enable communication through a plan that utilizes tools to create a culture of expertise and sharing
  3. Manage for quality through a formal, formative evaluation plan that encourages group reflection of user testing results.
  4. Setting up a program level atmosphere that works to flatten power relationships between your IDD team and subject matter expert.

My fifth factor is managing for project momentum. Leading and managing for project momentum involves being constantly aware of the other four.

If you would like to learn more about my topic come to the University of Wisconsin’s Distance Teaching and Learning Conference August 4-6. I will be session speaking on Micro-collaboration: Team sharing to build highly interactive online activities on Thursday August 5, 2010 at 2:15 p.m.