How to Land Paid Contract Work as a Business Analyst with a Software Background: Todd Fleming
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How to Land Paid Contract Work as a Business Analyst with a Software Background: Todd Fleming


Hello, and welcome. Laura Brandenburg here from Bridging the Gap
here today with Todd Fleming. Hi, Todd. Hi, Laura. Hi. So, Todd is from Somers, Montana. I’ve just got to check my notes. As we mentioned, it’s not a familiar town
that most of us are probably familiar with. It’s near Kalispell, Montana. Todd participated in our spring 2019 session
of the Business Analyst Blueprint and had some pretty cool successes from that. Just wanted to share his story with you or
give him an opportunity to share his story with you. Todd, if you could just take us back a little
bit to where you were at before you joined the Blueprint. Where were you at in your career? What were you looking for? At the end of 2018, I found myself in a job
search and looked at all the different roles that I’ve experienced and truly knew in
my identity, in my soul that I’m an analyst. Then I was looking at, “Well, what kind
of analyst am I?” and I realized, “Yeah, I think I fit that description of a business
analyst, being that liaison between the front end of the process and systems and making
that connection to the back end and developing systems and working well with people.” So, I started looking for, “What does my
resume need to look like?” I was Googling that, and I came across BridgingtheGap.com
and found you, Laura, and started researching your website and then saw that you wrote a
book, How to Start a Business Analyst Career. I’m like, “Well, this is the person I
need to connect with.” So, that’s how it started, and I started
looking at your free online courses and really thought that your material was legitimate
and well-presented, and it spoke to me in a way that I could understand. I signed up for your course early. Right at the beginning of January and really
was looking to build a foundation as a business analyst, having a resource to go to that gives
me confidence and credibility and the skill sets that are labeled as a business analyst. What were some of your expectations going
into the program? Well, I think in the very beginning, I thought,
“This will lead me to be a certified professional.” I’m still not sure if that’s really the
right course for me at this time. So, that was the very beginning that I thought,
“I need that CBAP stamp on my resume to be a better catch or catch more attention.” Now, eight months later almost, I don’t
really see that as the definite thing that I need to do, but I do, after completing the
course, have the educational units that I need to go forward with that. It’s always an option. Yeah. Yeah, and that happens a lot, that people
come in with that goal and things shift as they go through the course because they build
the experience and the confidence that you’re looking for this outside validation, but it
starts to come more from the inside. Tell me: one of the reasons I wanted to speak
with you, specifically, is because you mentioned you were in between jobs when you joined the
program, and one of the things that we do in the Blueprint is you’re applying each
of the modules as you go through. You had a really unique way of solving that
dilemma, being somebody in between jobs. Can you tell us a little bit about how that
worked out for you? Sure. A former employer of mine who I’d built
a database system for was merging with its parent company. So it was, more or less, a subsidiary, smaller
company merging with the larger company. Right at the beginning of this year, this
merger was developing. I let the business owner know what I was up
to. I was signed up for this course to develop
my business analyst skills, and, “…just wanted to let you know.” He told me a little more about the merger
and I said, “Well, maybe there’s a way I can help you with that.” Because I’m already a subject matter expert
in their field. I developed the system that, now, the parent
company has adopted. So, they were adopting this system that I
had built, architected for them. So, I was the original business analyst/designer/architect/developer
of this system, so it made sense to bring me on board to do some of this work. As things progressed—for example, the first
module for analyzing a business process—I analyzed a process for their financing, or
invoicing. The process was to invoice a completed work
order. I did the complete work flow diagram; I interviewed
the main person in their invoicing department, and realized that there was a gap in their
process on what you do when invoicing rejects the invoice from the project manager that
sent it in. They had no process for that, error step or
decision point in that. When they made that decision, it was left
to communicate their rejection in a pretty vague, anonymous…there wasn’t a sending
point at all. Right. As they were getting more involved with their
merger, and they’re involving me just bringing this new system online to the parent company,
they found…well, I found the opportunity to show this to the top levels of the new
company, or the parent company, to show them some examples of the work that I’m doing
in the business analyst Blueprint course. That caught their attention. They really appreciated it, and I offered
it at no cost to them, just doing it in good faith that it may lead to more work, and it
has. To this day right now, we’re just getting
into the start of redesigning this original system—basically coming out with version
two of it. They’ve engaged me to do that. Awesome. So, you started just volunteering for them
and gave them a bit of it for free. Then that lead to an actual client engagement,
as well? Right. I was hired to do administrative work on their
system, but the business analyst work that I was doing was, more or less, volunteer work. Got you. Had you done that kind of analysis before
when you were designing that original system? Not to that detail. Okay. I didn’t do work flow diagrams. I didn’t do an ERD. It was, more or less, just building it from
what I knew. This gave me the framework to be able to do
the detailed work that’s necessary to document a process and document how the system is actually
laid out, especially when it comes to…what they really need is documentation for within
their dictionary and their glossary, their whole data modeling, so that they can take
this system, whether the platform they use now needs to change. Then they can take that and move it along
whether I’m there or not for them. Got you. I’ve actually talked to a lot of people
who come from a business background recently. It’s been a while since I’ve talked to
somebody from a software background. Tell me: what were some of the mental switches
for you that triggered…it’s the same system. You designed it, you built it, and now you’re
looking at it from this completely different view. What was that experience like? I really had to humble myself to say, “I
need to look at this from that different perspective. Maybe there’s a better practice that I could
employ in this, especially within the redesign.” My instructor, Doug, led me into a whole rework
of how the tables would be presented in this system. I’m like, “Wait a minute. I designed the original one. Are you telling me this isn’t the right
way to do it?” Now, though, I have that, and I accepted that
as…it was challenging. I looked at it in a different way, and now
I can actually take the second version of this system, the 2.0, and make it even that
much better and create more value to the customer. What are some of the wins that they’ve experienced
as a result of this or some of the benefits to the organization you’re working for? They are benefiting mostly on their…they’re
taking a system that in process… So, all of their systems right now that are
kind of just desperate and on their own. They’re looking to integrate their systems
and really produce valuable, data-driven decisions. This gives them the starting point to grow
in that. Right now the company doesn’t have an in-house
IT department. It doesn’t have…I’m just working as
a contractor or consultant for them. So when I’m told that you want to make data-based
decisions, who’s maintaining your data? This is giving the company the benefiting
of realizing they need to make a move in that direction. If they want to follow through with their
vision, they need to bring the resources to make that vision happen. If they want to try to do it internally without
the right resources, it’s going to be a long, difficult road, and I think they’ve
already been there. They’re ready for change in that. That created an opportunity, the timing of
this, having an added value skill set that I earned through the Blueprint. It presents me in a way to them that, “We
need you here working on this project.” Right. It has created…now you really are a business
analyst. You’re doing these skills as part of your
contract in consulting work. Would you consider yourself that? Yeah. I’ve been self-employed for about the last
four years, and now I feel confident that I can label myself as a business analyst,
where before it was, more or less, I tried to give a name to it. It was “systems manager consultant” or
something like that. I’ve worked in within project management
and project coordination, but I’d never really had that title, business analyst, until
recently, and I feel comfortable that when you look at my LinkedIn profile, and it says
“business analyst” as the first thing you see that I’ve been working as a business
analyst, and I do indeed have these skill sets. Yeah, and experience. What do you see as next for you? Well, I’m basically taking it one project
at a time. I’m looking at opportunities, new career
opportunities, looking for new business analyst roles, possibly, under employment instead
of self-employed. I’m really not sure right now as we speak
where I’m going. So I do want to work on this project with
the company here in Kalispell, and then I’m not sure really what the longevity of that
will be. Maybe they create a new role for me and want
to bring me in as an employee or just we do a service contract to continue our relationship
professionally. I’m open to new things right now. Awesome. Thank you for your time. I’ve just got a couple more questions. It’s been really helpful. I think a lot of people get in this gap, and
what I love about your story is how you were in that state and you got unstuck and out
of it. It’s really the growth path over the last
eight months is pretty significant as a result of that. Thank you for sharing that. What would you give to people who are in that
same state, like in between opportunities, thinking, and “Could I reach out to my past
employer?” What advice, I guess is my question, would
you give them to follow in your footsteps? It doesn’t hurt to reach out. “What do you have going on? Oh, by the way, we’re doing a merger.” I’m like, “Oh, really? The work that I did for you before may be
not so relevant, but now I have a strengthened skill set that I think will help you move
forward with your new project.” I was looking for help on how to define myself
as a business analyst and what was it. Thankfully, Laura, you created what you created
for all of us to learn from you and your program, and you hit it on the mark. How do I start my business analyst career? Yeah. Thank you for that. What I’m hearing from you, too, is there
was the reaching out. It doesn’t hurt. “I might hear, ‘Yes.’ I might hear, ‘No.’ There might be something here; there might
be not.” Having a story around that or a fear around
that, just putting that aside but also letting people know that you are expanding in your
skill set because I think a lot of people who have done one thing in the past kind of
feel pigeon-holed in that role. You do have to be active in telling people
that you’re going in a new direction and helping them see that or the potential of
that in the organization. A few things to focus on as you’re doing
outreach if somebody else is going to follow that kind of path. Final question: where would you be today if
you hadn’t chosen to make the investment in yourself and the Blueprint? I’m really not sure. It’s a hard question. Yeah. I would probably still be trying to figure
out, “How do I start a business analyst career? How do I apply what I’ve done in the past
experiences and move it forward to a business analyst career because that’s what I want
to do?” I think if I hadn’t taken the course, I
would still be kind of set on some old thinking and old ways of doing things, which aren’t
modern best practices. Just self-taught filling in the role when
it wasn’t well defined in the past. What would be an example of that? Years ago when I was in Ohio, I was basically
the program manager for an SAP billing system for utility, and I didn’t have a staff. So I filled that role as business analyst,
but I didn’t have a foundation of what to do until I kind of saw it happen because I
had contracted some business analysts that came over from India. They were doing work flow diagrams and things
like that. I didn’t have a clue about how that fit
into the whole system. I just would look at data tables and figure
things out and not realize what was missing. I was able to still re-engineer a process,
but it wasn’t well documented for the company. Now if I were to go back to that space, I
would be able to know what to do to document it, who I need to bring in to help understand
the process better and redefine it. In the end, it still worked. Processes were improved, but how they got
approved, there’s no history of that other than what I know, really. Right. The value you can add now, like you had mentioned
this, is, “Whether I stay on this contract or not, they’re going to have some assets
that they can use to run the system.” That increases the value you’re adding because
when you leave, that system still can be maintained and understood and used well. Yeah. Right. I want for the company, when the time comes
for me to leave, that they can look at what I brought to them and say, “Thank you,”
not go, “Oh, this guy left all this stuff undone, and now we can’t do anything about
it.” And that comes around full circle for you,
too. I think it can be scary, like, “Now they
don’t need me,” but on the flip side, somebody else will come see that and be like,
“Wow. This guy did great work. We should call him back,” or give you a
great reference because I’ve had that happen where my work from years ago is still being
used. Then it leads to something positive in the
future. I love that goal for you. That’s a good one. Right. I do a good job of—
Your audio cut out real quick. There you go. I don’t know if that was my Internet or
your Internet. We’ll get that little piece edited out. You were saying, “I did a good job,” or,
“I do a good job of…” and then that’s when it cut out. So if you could start that part. I do a good job of working myself out of a
role or out of a job. What that means is I’m usually creating
a system that replaces me and then training somebody to do this at a lower level than
where I was because the system is replacing the higher level skill set. In turn, like what you were saying, it comes
full circle to where that value will be remembered. Then when they need that again, it’ll come
back. Yeah. That’s great. Anything else you’d like to share before
we close things? I’ve enjoyed working with all the staff
at the BA Blueprint, and from the very beginning when we met and spoke in the early enrollment,
I just really had a warm feeling from you that you care, and you do. It’s obvious you’re here to help people,
and I appreciate that, and I thank you. Thank you, and I appreciate you taking the
time to share this. I love celebrating successes and helping inspire
other people to follow along in these successes, as well. Thank you so much, Todd. You’re welcome.

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