Subject Matter Experts (SME) in Software Development – Roles and Responsibilities
Jedis had Yoda, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had Splinter, and what about software development companies? They also have their Yodas, and they’re called Subject Matter Experts.
By reading this article, you’ll find out:
- Who’s a Subject Matter Expert
- Required skills & responsibilities set
- When to hire an SME
- Where to find a perfect candidate
- How to make sure if you’re hiring an expert or a scammer
Who’s a Subject Matter Expert?
A Subject Matter Expert (aka SME) is an authority in a particular technology, process, function, machine, etc. It’s said that SMEs in software development are individuals with the greatest expertise in technical topics. They’re often asked to review, approve, improve technical work, and guide and teach people with smaller experience.
Basically, it’s someone like Yoda for Software Development.
SMEs are usually found among the people (call them Jedis if you want 😉) who have been in their roles for a long and intensive period, so their skills and knowledge are their second nature. The ‘chosen’ person should know their field of expertise so well that they rarely need to look up information because everything is already in their head. Besides the knowledge, what skills do a great Subject Matter Expert in Software Development should have?
- Ability to clearly define the procedures or standards
- Ability to define performance objectives and determine performance levels
- Ability to provide recommendations for improvements
- Ability to perfectly understand the jargon in their area of expertise
- Ability to make decisions, knowing the process and its dangers perfectly
- Ability to become a mentor for people searching for answers or inspirations
- Ability to communicate clearly
- Ability to answer not only HOW but also WHY things are done
SME Roles and Responsibilities
The main responsibility of a modern software development Yoda is ensuring that everything is done correctly and the project’s deliverables will meet the client’s needs. To achieve this goal, good SME should:
- Take an active part in defining the process, roles and procedures
- Be able to present their needs to the project team accurately
- Validate the requirements and deliverables of products/services that the team will produce
- Provide input of test cases and scenarios and later validate executed test results
- Be able to guide other professionals on the project
- Provide training material for less experienced people
- Test the product/service and providing feedback and tips to the team
- Resolve any issues within their area of expertise
When should you engage Yoda for your employees?
It’s pretty common to hire a Subject Matter Expert when facing a difficult challenge or problem. Before you decide to hire anyone, remember that some professionals are cross-trained in their particular functions so that some problems will call for highly specialized knowledge. That’s why you should decide which area of your company/specific project could use an SME’s guidance.
In software development, a Subject Matter Expert is usually responsible for defining business requirements and recommending a technical approach to meet them. He can also generate design specifications which typically involves translating business needs into detailed algorithms.
Subject Matter Expert also usually oversees the development, testing, and deployment of the technical solution and validates if the product meets all of the requirements.
There are three basic and most popular fields where you could use an SME’s help:
- INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY – SMEs for insights into integrating software apps, fixing bugs or anomalies that have been discovered during the tests
- ARCHITECTURE & ENGINEERING – SMEs as experts in building new technologies or approaching new design techniques/trends.
- PROJECT MANAGEMENT – hiring SMEs as knowledge extension tools when your Jedi team’s knowledge or process is insufficient for the problems they’re facing
Where to find a Subject Matter Expert?
This may seem easy, but it is not. Not every experienced person can work as an SME, but every SME should have a wide experience. Where to look for a perfect candidate without the risk of being overwhelmed with applications of inexperienced people?
- Professional associations
Some of the professional associations’ websites give you the ability to post an employment listing, and that is the perfect place to look for a potential SME. Although it’s highly possible, you will have to pay for posting it, but using these websites will help you narrow the candidate pool and find the perfect person for this position.
- Niche job boards
Of course, there are many advantages to massive mainstream job search engines, but I wouldn’t recommend it in this case. Unless you want to drown in a sea of unwanted job applications… 😉 Niche job boards for particular experience professionals are a valuable source of candidates with specialized knowledge and/or career interests. And in most cases, they are free!
When aiming to hire an expert in a specific field of expertise, add Linkedin to your traditional candidate search strategies. There’s an option to pay for an employment ad to reach a large number of potentially qualified candidates. Linkedin groups also allow posting job offers. Although the reach can be limited, it’s still worth a shot.
- Blogs and industry publications
Do the good old google searching. Look for blog posts or publications by typing relevant keywords into the search engine. You can also search for blogs using a tool such as Blog Rank. The next step is simply reaching the blogger and offering him a job.
How to choose the perfect candidate?
SME should serve your team as a never-ending source of knowledge, insights, and advice. That’s why it is CRUCIAL to choose not only the most experienced candidate but also a person that’s great with people. Take a look at what’s most important when choosing the right person for this position.
1. HANDS-ON APPROACH
The person you choose should be excited to dive into the project and prepare to give it the new quality. A great SME is a proactive one, so even when you meet a genius, make sure he’s an involved member of your team, not a passive observer.
2. QUANTITY and QUALITY
The length of the SMEs experience is significant, but the breadth of this experience is as much important. Make sure to hire a person that fits your expectations and has the potential to go beyond them.
A great software development Yoda will be able to outline every single step of their work process – make sure that this kind of process will help you to solve the problem you’re facing.
4. STREET CREDS
Finding the right person is like the mafia’s recruitment process – verifying your SME’s-to-be references and credentials should help you in making the right decision.
5. COMMUNICATION SKILLS
Even the biggest expert in the world would be useless for your company if he cannot share their knowledge properly and clearly. That is one thing.
The second is communication flow – make sure you’re hiring a person that can provide comprehensive answers quickly, so the development process runs smoothly.
6. TEAM FLOW
Interviewing your future Subject Matter Expert in 1on1 meetings or via Skype/e-mail can give you a general idea of your candidate’s experience, but not his ability to cooperate with others. That’s why introducing an SME to your team before hiring would be a good way to reveal important character features and collaboration abilities. The perfect candidate is experienced and respectful, patient, empathetic and determined, as people skills are as important as the knowledge itself.
Ok, so now you have all of the theoretical knowledge to hire a master Yoda among Subject Matter Experts. But I have a sense that the Yoda himself would recommend you trust your gut, so combine the substantive requirements with your intuition, and I’m sure your business will be fine!
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