by D. Williamson | Sept. 5, 2017 | 7 Min Read

What’s the Time Commitment? Best Practices to Engage SMEs

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Whether you’re developing training content on your own or hiring a custom training partner like Unboxed to create content for you, you’re going to need SMEs, or subject matter experts. SMEs help you — and any partner companies you work with — make sure your training content is accurate and sounds like you.

As you plan your next training project, it’s helpful to be aware of a few best practices to engage SMEs, so you can set expectations and start things off on the right foot. When it’s time to round up a great group of SMEs, don’t worry, we’ve got your subject matter expert roles and responsibilities covered.

So, Why Be a SME?

When you’re gathering a team of SMEs, you’re asking people to do a little extra work. That can seem daunting to some, but remember this: there are a lot of benefits to being a SME.

SMEs get to share their expertise in order to create great training for your company. They can contribute to truly meaningful change within your organization.

Plus, being a SME can lead to great personal and professional growth and potential career advancement. When you’re gathering your team and talking with them about SME time commitment, roles, and responsibilities, make sure you outline the benefits.

Characteristics of a Great SME

Obviously, a great SME has excellent knowledge of the topic you need to train. But being a SME is more than that.

The ideal SME will:

  • “Get” the ins and outs of your business so your training matches your company’s needs and culture.
  • Be able to review training content for accuracy.
  • Add crucial details to content by offering their own experiences, tips, and stories from within the industry.
  • Care about the success of the company and the people being trained.
  • Want the training to be of the highest quality.
  • Be willing to make time in their schedules for the project.

Let’s explore that last bullet further and take a look at each step of the training development process to get a better sense of the SME time commitment.

Friendly caveat: These are estimates. Longer and more complex projects may require more SME involvement, but no matter the scope of the project, it’s important to make sure SME duties don’t negatively impact their day jobs. Let’s set them up for success.


Creation of your training content will likely follow a process that goes something like this: Discovery, Design, Development, and Delivery. There’s typically a SME time commitment at each step.


SME time commitment per week: 1 hour

Typically, this phase includes at least one initial discovery call that lasts about an hour. However, sometimes before the first discovery call it’s a good idea to have a kick-off workshop or meeting with your SME team so you can align internally on the extent of their involvement and what to expect.

During the discovery phase, SMEs may be asked to help define the business needs, audience, and learning objectives. They’ll also use their expertise to answer questions about the topic being trained.

The initial SME call may lead to more questions in the future. Your team should be available (typically via email) in case the training development team reaches out for additional information.


SME Time Commitment per week: 1-2 hours.

During the design phase, the training team you’re working with will develop content outlines, often called high-level designs. From there, SMEs need to confirm that the outlines adhere to the learning objectives and that the information is accurate.

Depending on the type of training being developed, the training team may also pitch creative concepts during the design phase. SMEs may be asked to review these concepts and approve any talent or location specs for live action videos, if applicable.

The Design phase typically includes one SME check-in call. Materials will be sent prior to the call and shouldn’t take more than an hour to review.


SME Time Commitment per week: 1-2 hours

In this phase, the training development team brings the high-level designs to life to create the actual training content.

The Develop phase usually includes one check-in call. SMEs will help sign off on any materials being sent to final production by:

  • Verifying language, tone, and style.
  • Pointing out any gaps in the content.
  • Approving visual direction.

Materials are often sent prior to the call for review.


SME Time Commitment per week: ~1 hour (maybe less)

The final phase doesn’t require as much involvement as previous phases. Typically, content is complete, and SMEs may just be asked to confirm no errors have been made and approve the final product.

The delivery phase can be extremely rewarding for your SME team. It’s so exciting to see the final product come to life.

Next steps

When your training launches, celebrate your SME team’s hard work. Thank them for their time commitment and dedication. As a custom training company, we’ve helped our clients plan training release parties, schedule screenings of new videos, and put together SME thank-you gifts.

If you’re interested in learning more about identifying a SME team or planning out your subject matter expert roles and responsibilities, reach out! We have years of experience building world-class programs, and we’d love to help.

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