What is a subject matter expert?

The subject matter expert (SME) provides the knowledge and expertise in a specific subject, business area, or technical area for a project/program. 

How do I define who the subject matter experts should be?

SMEs are typically found among those who have been in their roles for a long enough period of time for their knowledge and skills to be “second nature”. A SME should know their job well enough that they rarely have to look up information and, if they do have to, they know exactly where to find the information.

Evidence that a person would make a valued SME for the project/program would include the ability to:

  • Define procedures or standards, since he/she has the knowledge of what the right or best way to execute a task would be
  • Define performance objectives, and determine acceptable performance levels
  • Provide recommendations for procedural improvements
  • Understand the language/terms/jargon in his/her area of expertise
  • Understand requisite knowledge that underlies effective decision-making and is able to describe where anomalies or flaws may occur in the decision-making for his/her area of expertise
  • Act as the “go to” person within a department or function for questions and problems  within his/her area of expertise
  • Explain his/her area of expertise clearly to others
  • Not only answer how things are done, but why

What are the subject matter expert’s responsibilities?

In general, the responsibility of the SME is to ensure the facts and details are correct so that the project’s/program's deliverable(s) will meet the needs of the stakeholders, legislation, policies, standards, and best practices. To achieve this, SMEs will:

  • Support the definition of processes and policies, supply business rules and procedures, and communicate the contexts in which the rules, processes and polices are applied
  • Accurately represent their business units’ needs to the project/program team
  • Validate the requirements and deliverables that describe the product(s) or service(s) that the project/program will produce
  • Bring information about the project/program back to the customer community
  • Provide input for the design and construction of test cases and scenarios, and may also validate executed test results
  • Provide input into and/or create and execute user documentation and training material
  • Test the product(s) or service(s) towards the end of the project/program (user acceptance testing), using and evaluating it for accuracy and usability, providing feedback to the project/program team
  • Guide other professionals on the project/program to ensure the content is accurate
  • Resolve issues relevant to project/program deliverable(s) within their area of expertise
  • Obtain or provide approval for changes to rules, processes and policies