Subject Matter Communities—A Win for Customers & Coworkers
Tim Ullrey | Team Lead | Advanced Product Development
Creating a venue where the subject matter experts of your company can meet regularly to discuss their specific discipline can bring far-reaching benefits to your projects, customers, and your coworkers. I have been an engineer for 14 years, and I have found that technical experts are my go-to resource for just about every project. These are the individuals who, when asked a simple yes or no question about their subject, give you an energetic half-hour response.
While this might be frustrating at times, I find their passion for their subject infectious. Quite often they communicate critical nuggets of information that I either overlooked or didn’t even consider in the first place. Subject matter experts and thought leaders direct where new designs go, provide valuable insight, and identify potential risks from their real-world experience. Whether it is making sure you have enough draft on your plastic part design or making sure an assembly bolt check is in the right place on a PFMEA—technical experts can head off opportunities for error and/or stretch what is considered possible.
The Value of Subject Matter Communities
By pooling your technical experts together internally or having them join an external group, you and your customers will achieve even greater outcomes. For example, DISHER has a wide range of technical experts from a variety of industries and disciplines. While it is fantastic to have all of this brain power, we have found that intentionally pooling it together leverages this knowledge for even greater results. Our Subject Matter Communities (SMCs) consist of a range of members from 30-year veterans to promising new graduates who are all focused on sharing and advancing the knowledge in their technical field.
Our Current communities include: Machine Design, Quality, Electronics Hardware, Electronics Software, Product Development Engineering, and Manufacturing Engineering. Our communities host regular meetings and activities focused on their discipline, attend industry events together, provide mentoring within the team, document lessons learned, and record best practices.
The ultimate goal of all this activity is to provide better solutions for our customers. When DISHER team members can combine the experience of 15 engineers, they stand a much better chance of identifying the best solutions.
The Role of a Subject Matter Leader
To facilitate this activity and seek out new opportunities, each DISHER SMC has a Subject Matter Leader (SML). While the SML is certainly a technical expert in their field, they also have a strong desire to actively grow the other members of their community. This SML role provides a chance for recognition and leadership of technically-oriented people without the responsibility of having direct reports. By focusing on their technical discipline, the SML can be more efficient in continuously improving the SMC.
Connecting to the Network
The underlying goal of an SMC is simply to promote the sharing of knowledge and experience. I recently listened to a great audiobook, Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson. Johnson captures the essence of what an SMC strives to achieve in his statement, “It’s not that the network itself is smart; it’s that the individuals get smarter because they’re connected to the network.”
By deliberately connecting people with common technical interests and expertise, the network/community continues to get smarter. It’s a lot less painful for me to learn from someone else’s failures than for me to make that same mistake on my own. And conversely, the community I’m in brings amazing, tried-and-true ideas that save me valuable time and energy and spark further innovation.
If you have a technical problem, whether small or complex, tap into our experienced network. We have a team of ninja-like geeks would love to help optimize your outcomes.
Written By: Tim Ullrey | Product Development Engineer & Subject Matter Community Expert
Tim received a BA in Physics from Kalamazoo College and an MS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan. He brings over 10 years of experience in concept to manufacturing product development within the automotive and office furniture industries. Tim loves to spend his free time with his kids. He also enjoys reading, golfing, and playing soccer whenever possible.