Why being a rebel is better than being a Subject Matter Expert

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Subject Matter Experts. They are the ones we immediately look for and to when trying to understand a business problem, when we need to identify those in the business who can help with change we turn to them. We sometimes want to reward them with the Process Champion sheriff badge and give them a corral in the shape of a COE. Saddle up !

The trouble with SMEs is that they are invariably as stuck in their ways as any of us are. They know their part of business inside out for sure, to the letter in fact sometimes, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Because it invites constraint, lack of creative thinking, rigidity. Comfort.

The screen is perceived to be the window to their business world and their responsibilities are 1028 x 624 in size. For some that’s all they want. You ever seen the scifi film “Cube” ? It’s a bit like that, if you want to get out you’ll die trying, and that’s why people don’t want to know what’s beyond their borders. Responsibility and accountability is scary as hell.

Better the Devil you know, and he’s in the cubicle with you handing you the next application form to process.

Cynical maybe, but having worked through the ranks that’s sometimes how life is on the coal face.

The trick has always been to spot the ones bending and breaking the rules. They’re the ones that will champion the business to change. Not SMEs. I’m not referring to the Nick Leesons (although they can still teach us a thing or three about lack of control) but we always ask for SMEs “because we’ve always done it this way” when doing change……

Rebels are rule-benders and rule-breakers who are more tuned into the art of the possible. Those that spot workarounds and backdoors in systems to make them work better in a mundane role. Those who challenge their supervisors because they know how the process works better than they do. Those who are told they can’t do something because the company structure says so but still push forward.

Seek them out as the real champions of your business change initiative and leave the SMEs to their window gazing.

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19 responses to “Why being a rebel is better than being a Subject Matter Expert

  1. People don’t like being told they are wrong and since there is a whole large pool of people who are “SME’s”, I doubt many of them are interested in doing a self analysis. Or they’re just riding on this wave and when the next shiny object comes along, the float on to that.
    BPM has no official governance and it’s so disjointed and open for discussion. How can anything be achieved if there are 12 opinions on 1 matter. Do all count? Do none count?
    Who knows.

    I’m glad we share some commonalities in our opinion on this. Else I would have gone crazy talking to myself about BPM.

  2. I agree with the notion that SMEs can see their life through a screen. I’ve dealt with many myself who are precisely that way. However, I have also been considered an SME in the past and I have never played by those rules you describe in your post. I suggest something a little different. Perhaps best to find those SMEs who are rebels in practice and at heart. Then you get something done that has a positive disruption to the business and perhaps it is even done with both immediate and long term lasting effect…

  3. Of course you can’t go left field with your ideas. But I find once certain ideas and thoughts are packaged and readily implemented as products (especially something like BPM), if everyone implements it does everyone get change? And to what levels of success?

    There are many things BPM does not cover which are integral like competitive advantage, unique selling point, customer service for example. These factors play a vital role and logic has to prevail for a company to balance out. I read somewhere people actually ask to model processes based on office politics.

    “Yes make that deadlock on paper to justify your role and ego”

    With office politics prevailing, BPM is a glorified spectator imho.

    And let’s be honest, from what I’ve seen online, Theo is one of the FEW who would put their stand and stand out and make sense. The rest are Mr and Mrs Know it alls

    “Hi SME 1, what do you think of BPM Success”
    “I think it’s this”
    “I think it’s that”

    9 years later
    “Hi SME 1, what do you think of BPM Success”
    “I think it’s this”
    “I think it’s that”

    Both go back thinking I’m so smart.

    Winning!

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  5. First thing I did when starting blogging and rebelling on BPM is attending the training ‘how to cope with criticism’

    Maybe SME’s should do too?

    By the way that training was a waste of time, because I am always right.

  6. I understand and agree about the problems with SMEs. We have to break it down: SME stands for Subject Matter Expert, not business analyst or process improvement expert. Go to the SME for information about a Subject and don’t have foolish expectations that they can provide anything more than that. In other words, the SME can help you determine or identify the “current state” of a process but will not necessarily be a good resource for analyzing that process and arriving at a good definition of the desired “future state.”

    As for Help I Have BPM’s comment: “There are many things BPM does not cover which are integral like competitive advantage, unique selling point, customer service for example.” Well, that’s not what I’ve been taught. BPM, particularly when it’s part of a strategic focus on process-based management and organization, is ALL about competitive advantage,unique selling point, and customer service. If it isn’t, you’re not really “doing” BPM.

  7. I’m quite sure there are companies doing great work and have implemented BPM well enough that either there is a effective CoE and the leaders are educated in it. However, BPM doesn’t provide a competitive advantage. It provides structure around activities that does that. BPM will become commodity like any soft drink or sneakers. As for customer service, BPM is only customer focused if the processes are seen from the touch points between business and customer. Then it is CEMM not BPM.

  8. I agree that BPM in and of itself does not deliver competitive advantage; it is a tool that if used well and properly can help you achieve competitive advantage through optimized processes. And yes, BPM is only customer focused if the processes being optimized are viewed with the customer touch point as the delivery end of the value chain; in other words, the process must add value for the customer, which in turn implies that you darn well better be sure you know what is or will be valuable to your customer.

    BTW, pardon my ignorance, but what is CEMM?

  9. CEMM is Customer Experience Management Method or Customer Engagement Maturity Model. In essence is working with theend in mind and working backwards to define the process which makes the customer happy so to speak. The issue with this is customer doesn’t know what he wants but he knows what he doesn’t want which can get tricky but the end product is beneficial as one happy customer will lead to many in the long run.

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  11. Regarding the discussion on Subject Matter Experts SMEs: I work in a highly technical environment, and, by definition, I am supposed to be one. However, I was really hired there because they had a need for someone to interface with the rest of the organization regarding regulatory processes the organizaion needs to follow (including my group). My value in that organization allows the REAL SME to technically get back to work and do what he does best. He’s happy I’m there, and I’ll never lose my job because if I were gone, then the organization would lose the productivity of the SME. Obviously, then, there is a role for both the SME and people like us who work to make the world a better place. It is extremely important that we understand our role in understanding how BPM concepts can be used in the organization to gain competitive advantage, and to build the infrastructure and the processes that allow the SMEs to comply and support these processes in a way that is easy, enjoyable (to the extent it can be for them), and unintrusive. We must assume the SME has the capacity to understand these ideas, and really wants to support the strategic mission of the organization. So, it is a very good thing for the BPM practitioner to find ways to build the necessary infrastructure to bring a greater awareness of the strategic needs of the organization to the SME and to make it possible for him to perform his SME role while supporting the needs of the organization.
    At the moment, I am dealing with all that stuff that the real SME doesn’t want to do. A fabulous goal would be to get the business process infrastructure in place that simplifies the organization’s ability to comply with the regulatory demands. With that accomplished, along with the ability to maintain those processes long term, when the day comes for me to leave, I will not leave a hole behind. And who knows – with a well oiled machine, I might be able to use part of my time to become a mini-SME 🙂
    BPM is far more than improving processes. It is a Management Discipline that results in infrastructure that leads to the developement of processes linked to corporate strategy. While activities related to Process Improvement are possible, I believe that the picture is incomplete without recognizing it as a mature vehicle to provide lasting competitive advantage to an organization.

  12. Bob correct me if I’m wrong but your role is an extension of your previous scope as you mentioned you’re in a group. So it’s not like your role is solely a advisory within a company. What I’ve noticed at least Down Under, is companies buy the nuts and bolts and get the people in. But push comes to shove first people out are those non essentials. I may have been a SME and was advising the senior management at different levels. My experience so far has been for BPM to succeed a company can’t be operating in the red.

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  15. I totally get you. But, I’m not sure it’s so radical as being a rebel as much as it is about challenging the status quo, whatever that may be. Things like the “80/20 rule” in corporate America are absurd and should not be acceptable – yet they are because it’s the status quo. This must be challenged if we are to make real progress in every aspect of industry, government, our personal lives – whatever. So, I’d say, that we don’t necessarily have to rebel, rather we need to think out of the box and have the courage to push past the status quo.

  16. “Why being a rebel is better than being a Subject Matter Expert | IT :: redux”
    baipu.info ended up being definitely engaging and insightful!

    Within modern society that is very hard to manage.
    Regards, Dwight

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