Subject Matter Experts – Who You Should Choose and How Many is Too Many for Your AX Implementation

One of the very first things clients have to do before a project takes off the ground is to select the core people involved. In the Microsoft Dynamics AX implementation world, we often refer to these users as SMEs or Subject Matter Experts. They will be the key users, and the leaders of the implementation in their respective business areas.

So the question obviously becomes; who should be a SME? Most people would automatically say ‘Managers, of course.’ And this would be the natural conclusion to come to at first glance, but let’s discuss this a little deeper.

Companies would prefer their managers to be SMEs for various reasons, one being they have the authority to make top line decisions. That is indeed a very important point, but instead of saying, SMEs have to be managers because they can make decisions, I personally like to flip this sentence upside down. The absolute focus of this statement is that whoever the SME is, they have to be given authority to make implementation related decisions. These could be decisions about configurations or Dynamics AX processes, but they could also easily be business decisions to accommodate the new software or optimize process flows. Do they have to come from a position where they make these decisions on a daily basis? No. Do they have to be given the authority to do so in their new role? Yes.

While we have debunked the urban legend that SMEs have to be managers in any case, let’s now discuss why it might not be the best idea. I have two major points.

  1. Time – SMEs in most implementation scenarios will have to dedicate a considerable amount of their time to the project for the lifetime of the implementation, and long after the big red switch is flipped and the company goes live on Microsoft Dynamics AX. Depending on the size of the project and the related timeline, their commitment can range anywhere between 20-100% of their time. A manager is often not an ideal choice simply because they are not able to dedicate this kind of time to the project. They will be pulled off of the project often to deal with business, their teams, and other tasks. Substituting a manager in most scenarios is way more difficult than substituting a supervisor, a senior clerk, or an operator.
  2. Knowledge – It would be assumed that a manager should have the most knowledge, therefore how could this be a con. I do agree that managers have the high level knowledge of everything their teams are working on, however, the fact of the matter is that they don’t perform these tasks on a daily basis. I have had numerous occasions where the manager as the SME has missed several scenarios, and made misguided decisions on configurations and process. This was discovered later in the process when we started to involve the end users, and when asked about these situations, the manager might not have been completely aware.

In my experience and in my humble opinion, it is best to ask the managers to appoint someone from their team who has the appropriate experience and who they trust with day-to-day decisions related to the project. The SMEs would spend time understanding the project, the various options and the resulting pros and cons, and consult managers regarding some of the bigger decisions. This would make the time the manager would have to be involved minimal, allowing them to focus their attention on other parts of the business. The assigned SMEs would know key team members, what can and cannot work in real life scenarios, and are hands-on and won’t forget the one-off scenarios.

The other question to discuss is the ideal number of SMEs involved. I have seen projects where there were too few SMEs and I have also seen too many. I usually recommend to have one person assigned for each business area – what a business area might be depends largely on how the client operates. I have had clients where purchasing and warehousing was the same team, therefore they provided one person, while other clients- bigger clients of course – had to delegate three people for this area; one for purchasing, one for inventory and one for warehousing. If business areas are not covered, this can halt the project very quickly, but having too many cooks in the kitchen is also not a good idea. It is more efficient to have one person learn Microsoft Dynamics AX, understand the questions, and coordinate the effort involved.

In summary, consider the decision making, the availability of team members, and whether all functional areas are covered (and that there are not too many involved) when making decisions on your project core team.

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