On the Carer's Allowance Digital Service we've had two business Subject Matter Experts (SME) for the past 12 months, they have been Kathryn Baxendale and myself.
Kathryn has been on the service since the very start of discovery working with Government Digital Service, she knows the service and business inside and out. I have been on the service for the past 12 months coming on board to support the introduction of CASA and helping pass the service standard assessment. We have both been working in the Carer’s Allowance Unit for over 9 years, we are the voice in the room for the Carer's Allowance Unit and are empowered to make decisions on behalf of the business. Basically we support the end to end development of a user story throughout it’s journey until it is released into live.
It's critical when you are building a service that if it’s replacing or improving an already existing service to understand what's currently out there; how this works and how staff feel this could be improved. Staff speak to users every day, they understand the benefit and the current service better than anyone and they have fantastic ideas to make things better for customers which in turn will makes things better in their own jobs.
Some of what an SME does
Representing the business on all user stories ensuring the business is ready to support these critically needed changes. As the business voice in the room we support the Product Owner and the rest of the team with the prioritisation of user stories. Some stories will achieve business benefits as well as improving the journey for users. It’s key that these are also prioritised alongside other stories and this is where the knowledge of the business also comes in.
We sense check content changes before seeking approval from policy teams, we keep in regular contact with policy to keep them informed on current and future changes.
We undertake field assurance testing prior to any release and write guidance and communications for each fortnightly release helping staff understand the latest changes to the service and how these changes will affect their day to day jobs and the user journey. We have iterated our guidance to make sure that it quickly and clearly communicates these changes, we have also worked on making guidance very visible.
Crucially we are part of user research where we help Researchers and Content Designers understand some of the complexities of the benefit so they can build workable solutions to problems faced by users. As well as being observers, insight note takers and being part of the evaluations, we support research in any way we can such as playing the role of a web chat agent. User research is a team sport and we are part of that team.
Co-location co-location co-location
It's been vitally important that we are co-located with the team working with them everyday, this is not something that can be done part time. We have understood the proposed changes and readied the business for them, answering questions from User Researchers, Content Designers, Business Analysts, Developers and Product Owners so they can make informed decisions. We are a part of the constant and continuous conversations.
If you haven't currently got a business SME and you are looking to replace, or improve an existing service then I would recommend getting one (or two if you're lucky).