Why Hiring SME’s Is Good

Carol and I enjoy wine and it’s not something I would ever have figured that I’d be writing about when I got married.  We went to Napa Valley a few years ago and while we enjoyed ourselves we didn’t think we had the best experience possible.  So this time we hired a guide.

Trevor, our guide, was worth every penny.  For one, his education gave us some awesome background on grapes.  It was unexpected and yet greatly appreciated.  Knowing why certain things happen in the wine business was interesting.  His many years in the area provided some great historical perspective.

Two, he had managed a wine bar for a few years in the Sanoma area so he knew the right questions to ask us BEFORE we started the tour and early in the tour.  I’m sure his tour would have hit many of the same wineries but it was interesting that he recommended different wines based on earlier observations from us.

It was also Trevor’s experience with wine newbies that was most appreciated.  While tasting a Pinot Noir that he described as the most aromatic in the valley he used two different glasses – one was a standard red wine glass, the other a Pinot glass (I didn’t know there were specific Pinot glasses!).  He swirled the same wine in each glass and had us sniff and taste.  What an amazing difference!  The same wine, swirled the same way in two separate glasses had a completely different nose and taste!  Carol and I would have NEVER tried that on our own.

Three, Trevor had a relationship with many of the winery employees.  On more than one occasion he was asked where we had been before and what we liked.  This gave the winery staff an indication of what we liked and therefore they started us on better wine (hopefully) than if we had just walked in off the street.  On several occasions Trevor gauged our reactions to a wine and asked the staff to pour something not on the shelf.  And because of his relationship with some of the wineries he gave us quick tours of the facilities (which was definitely not available to anyone walking in off the street).

In the long run we went to wineries that we would have never stopped at.  From the street some of them looked like crap (or deserted).  Most we had never heard of (which isn’t surprising since some had runs of less than 300 cases which never get sold to distributors that go to Kansas).  We tried wines that we wouldn’t have even known to ask for.  It is also safe to say we purchased more wine than we would have it we’d gone on our own.

So Trevor, from Terrific Tours, was the perfect Subject Matter Expert (SME) for us.  He is a great reminder of why we, as developers and consultants, get hired.  Our customers expect us to:

•    Be knowledgeable about the process
•    Know the history of the product
•    Be attentive to their needs and recommend things outside the scope of work
•    Be adaptable as conditions change
•    Teach them what they don’t know
•    Give a great experience

Software development isn’t nearly as subjective as wine (thankfully!).  Heck, a wine will taste different six months from now than it does right now while our clients expect the software to work exactly the same in six months as it does right now.  But that doesn’t mean that our experience and knowledge isn’t as valuable as Trevor’s.  Think about that experience the next time you work with a potential client.