Your main reason for working with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) is to elicit all of the knowledge they have about the processes you’re trying to support and the rules you need to enforce.
This is extremely relevant when you’re working on an internal product because often the processes and rules already exist and you need to figure out how to effectively support them.
Working with SMEs to understand those business processes and business rules can be a challenging endeavor. They know a great deal about the business process, but they can also suffer from the curse of knowledge. They can often assume other people know more than what they really do.
This week I’m sharing some techniques I’ve written about before on KBPMedia that will help you elicit the information you need from your SMEs in order to develop a clear understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve and constraints on the solution you need to deliver.
If there are any other techniques that you have found helpful for working with SMEs, leave your thoughts in the comments.
Initial discovery for an internal product
Here’s a description of how a team I worked with performed initial discovery with SMEs to understand the outcome we we’re trying to achieve. Those activities resulted in a broad (but relatively thin) understanding of our solution and helped us organize our approach to doing deep dive on thin slices of the product as we move into an ongoing delivery/development cycle.
The context diagram is a model that shows how your product interacts with outside people, organizations, and/or systems. The context diagram helps you to identify the SMEs you need to interact with to get more information about external people and systems your product interacts with.
What Jobs to Be Done Teaches us about Interviews
While Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) mostly applies to products for external use, there is some applicability for working inside an organization. Particularly when it comes to conducting interviews. Here are four things to consider when interviewing stakeholders prior to working on an internal product.
Socratic questioning is another way to structure your conversations with SMEs that you can use to draw out answers. First establish a thesis of what your stakeholder thinks their need is (usually expressed as a solution). Then engage in a dialog structured as a series of questions in an attempt to refute or disprove the thesis and get to the actual need.
Collaborative modeling refers to the use of well-known requirements analysis and modeling techniques in a collaborative fashion to build and maintain a shared understanding of the problem space and the potential solution. These are great techniques to supplement your conversations with SMEs when trying to gain a clearer understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve and constraints on the solution.