Questions to Ask SMEs for Branching Scenarios

Use this list of questions to ask SMEs about desired behaviors, mistakes, and consequences to write branching scenarios.

When you create branching scenarios, you probably work with SMEs. They’re the ones with the expertise, after all. However, sometimes it can be a struggle to get good stories and concrete details from SMEs. You can use this list of questions to ask SMEs to gather the information you need to write branching scenarios. In one or two hours of interviewing a SME, you can gather a significant amount of important information.

Questions to Ask SMEs for Branching Scenarios

Identify the desired behavior

As with any training project, the first step is identifying what behavior you want to change.

  • What do you want people to do differently as a result of this training?
  • If this training is successful, what will that look like in their day-to-day work?
  • What is happening right now that shouldn’t be happening?
  • What isn’t happening currently that you want to happen?

Details on the desired behavior

Keep drilling down to get more details on that desired behavior. SMEs will often start with general ideas like “provide quality customer service” or “improve communication.” That’s not enough for a branching scenario though. You need to continue to ask follow-up questions until you get more concrete information.

  • If you took a photo or video of that behavior, what would it look like? (That question comes from Julie Dirksen.)
  • What would it sound like in a conversation?
  • Can you give me an example of how someone used this technique successfully? What were they able to accomplish by doing it right?
  • Tell me about a time when you saw this happen in a real situation.
  • Walk me through this process. What would it look like if they did everything perfectly?
  • Are there any exceptions or edge cases where you might handle it differently?

Identify mistakes and problems

In a branching scenario, you need to know more than just the desired behavior. You also need to know the mistakes and problems, since those will become the wrong answers and alternate paths.

  • What are the common mistakes people make?
  • Where do people get stuck in this process?
  • Tell me more about that mistake. What do you think is going through people‚Äôs heads when they do that?
  • What does it look like when they make this mistake?
  • What problems do users report?
  • What makes this hard for newbies?
  • How do you know when it hasn’t been done correctly?
  • How are people doing it wrong currently?
  • What is most confusing about this to people doing it for the first time?
  • Why do people do this behavior wrong?

Besides talking to the SMEs, it’s also helpful if you can talk to actual users (or people who have learned this skill recently). They will often identify other issues than what the SMEs might think are the primary problems.

Another good question: “What are the most common issues reported to the help desk?” If this kind of data is available, this can be a better way to learn about mistakes than directly from the SME.

Identify consequences

In addition to the mistakes and problems, you need to identify the consequences. Ask SMEs these questions to gather information that will help flesh out the details in your branching scenarios.

  • Can you give me an example of a time when someone did this wrong? What happened because of this mistake?
  • In that situation, what happened next?
  • If someone [makes a specific mistake], what happens? What’s the consequence?
  • What does that consequence look like in practice?
  • What results do you see that tell you something went wrong?

Interview SMEs

When you interview SMEs, you won’t ask all of these questions straight through in a list. I do find it helpful to keep a list of questions handy, but the actual process is more fluid. Start with one of these questions in a category, and then follow up with another. With practice, you’ll get better at using these questions to draw out more information.

If the SME is good at telling stories and gives you lots of good details right away, you probably will only need to ask a few of these questions. If you’re struggling to get the right kinds of information, this list gives you several different ways to ask questions of SMEs.

If you’re still struggling after the interview, try one of my other tricks for working with SMEs: start writing something (even if it’s wrong) for the SME to correct, or give the SME an early prototype. It can be hard for SMEs to truly understand how a branching scenario will work, so showing them a draft script or prototype can help them get “unstuck.”

Further reading

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