What exactly is a Subject Matter Expert?

A Subject Matter Expert (SME) is someone who has deep knowledge about a subject, a practical expertise gained by a huge number of repetition and/or extended time dealing with the subject.

A Subject Matter Expert is not an expert in the academic sense, like a scholar who studied extensively a specific field. It is rather someone who happened to turn out expert without even noticing it, and many times experiencing some pain while dealing with the subject.

A Subject Matter Expert is very often a worker, an operator working on a process that is troublesome, has issues, produces substandard quality or failing to meet some requirements. Yet the definition of a SME should not be limited to troublesome or faulty processes. A deep knowledge of properly executing a job gained through extensive practice makes a SME too.

A Subject Matter Expert is the most knowledgeable person as he/she has already spent and/or spends longer period of time working on the “subject”. This extended period of time gives the SME a practical and deep knowledge about many aspects around the “subject”.

SME insights are very valuable because no procedure nor work instruction can list every possible case and how to deal with deviations from the “standard”. SME can explain how defects occur, or at least what are the most common circumstances that lead to such or such defect.

SME also learned over time how to deal with unexpected situations, like a worn-out tool that makes the job much more difficult or delicate, but no spare tool is available. SMEs often know how to tweak the procedures and instructions to get the job done correctly, instead of blindly following the rules and ending with a quality rejection or a later and often bigger problem.

About the author, Chris Hohmann

About the author, Chris Hohmann

That’s why, when inquiring about quality issues or other problems, SMEs should be involved and listened to. Many times SMEs developed a good practice ignored by the industrial engineer. Such good practice should be captured and shared, with credit to the SME who developed the good practice.

You are welcome to share your experience or thoughts about SME in the comments below.

View Christian HOHMANN's profile on LinkedIn

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