Choosing Subject Matter Experts in Dynamics 365 for Finance & Operations

Subject Matter Experts: Who you should pick and how many is too many?

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 Dynamics 365 implementation world, we often refer to these users as key-users or SMEs (Subject Matter Experts). They will be the leaders of the implementation in their respective business areas.

So the question obviously comes up; who should be an SME? Most 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 like their managers to be SMEs for the main and obvious reason that they have the authority to make the decisions. And 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 365 for Finance & Operations processes but they could 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.

So we debunked the myth that SMEs have to be managers in every case. Let’s discuss why it might not be the best idea. I have two major points:

Time – SMEs in most implementation scenarios will have to dedicate a considerable chunk 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 Dynamics 365 for Finance & Operations. Depending on the size of the project, the timeline, etc, their commitment can range anywhere between 20-100% of their time. A manager is often not a good choice because they simply are not able to dedicate this kind of time. They will be pulled off of the project often to deal with business or their teams. Substituting a manager in most scenarios is way more difficult than substituting a supervisor or a senior clerk or operator.

Knowledge – I can hear you say, “But a manager surely would have the most amount of knowledge, how is this a con?” And I would agree with you that managers do have a high level knowledge of everything their teams are working on or with. However, the fact of the matter is that they don’t perform these tasks on a daily basis. I have seen numerous occasions where the manager as SME has missed several scenarios, and made misguided decisions on configurations and processes which we only discovered later when we started to involve the end users. The end users have asked about some situations the manager forgot or was not completely aware of in the first place.

So based on my experience, the best plan is to ask the managers to appoint someone from their team who has the experience and who the manager is comfortable trusting with day-to-day decision making on the project. This does not mean that they would not consult the managers before some of the bigger decisions. But they spend the most time understanding options and pros and cons which helps the manager spend a minimal amount of time involved. They also know exactly how others in the team would react to certain things, what can and cannot work in a realistic scenario, they 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 too few and I have seen way too many. I usually recommend having one person assigned for each business area – what a business area might be depends largely on how the client operates. I had clients where purchasing and warehousing was the same team, so they provided one person, while other clients – bigger clients of course – had to delegate three people; one for purchasing, one for inventory and one for warehousing. If there are areas not covered, that can halt the project very quickly, but having way too many cooks in the kitchen is also not such a good idea. It is much more efficient to have one person learn Dynamics 365 for Finance & Operations, understand the questions and coordinate the effort involved if others from the team need to be participating, than trying to schedule and conduct meetings with way too many people in the room.

So in a nutshell, consider the decision making, the availability and whether all functional areas are covered (and that they are not over-covered) when making decisions on your project core team. If you have any questions about Dynamics 365 for Finance & Operations, feel free to contact us.

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