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

Today I’d like to share Todd Fleming’s success story with you. Todd is from Somers Montana, which is near Kalispell, Montana – a beautiful area of the United States I hope to visit someday!

Todd has a long background in developing and designing software and is now a business analyst. Listen in (or read below) to learn how Todd:

  • Discovered his identity as an analyst, and specifically a business analyst.
  • Leveraged his investment in up-leveling his skills to land paid contract work with a past employer.
  • Leaned into the instructor feedback he received to shift his mindset around database design.
  • Leaves his organizations better off than when he started, able to transfer his work to lower-level staff, and not create a dependency on him and his knowledge.
  • Was open to exploring new ways of thinking and applying modern best practices to take his self-taught experience to the next level.

Connect with Todd Fleming on LinkedIn


For those who like to read instead of watch, here’s the full text of the video:

Laura Brandenburg: Hello, and welcome. Laura Brandenburg here from Bridging the Gap here today with Todd Fleming. Hi, Todd.

Todd Fleming: Hi, Laura.

Laura Brandenburg: 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. I 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 Business Analyst Blueprint®. Where were you at in your career? What were you looking for?

Todd Fleming: 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 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.

Laura Brandenburg: What were some of your expectations going into the program?

Todd Fleming: 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.

Laura Brandenburg: It’s always an option.

Todd Fleming: Yeah.

Laura Brandenburg: 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. 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?

Todd Fleming: 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 workflow 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.

Laura Brandenburg: Right.

Todd Fleming: 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.

Laura Brandenburg: Awesome. So, you started just volunteering for them and gave them a bit of it for free. Then that led to an actual client engagement, as well?

Todd Fleming: 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.

Laura Brandenburg: Got you. Had you done that kind of analysis before when you were designing that original system?

Todd Fleming: Not to that detail.

Laura Brandenburg: Okay.

Todd Fleming: I didn’t do workflow 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.

Laura Brandenburg: 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?

Todd Fleming: 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.

Laura Brandenburg: 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?

Todd Fleming: 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 disparate 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. 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.”

Laura Brandenburg: 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?

Todd Fleming: 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.

Laura Brandenburg: Yeah, and experience. What do you see as next for you?

Todd Fleming: 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.

Laura Brandenburg: 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?

Todd Fleming: 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?

Laura Brandenburg: 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 skillset 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?

Todd Fleming: I’m really not sure.

Laura Brandenburg: It’s a hard question.

Todd Fleming: 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.

Laura Brandenburg: What would be an example of that?

Todd Fleming: 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 workflow 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.

Laura Brandenburg: 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.

Todd Fleming: 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.”

Laura Brandenburg: 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.

Todd Fleming: 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.

Laura Brandenburg: Yeah. That’s great. Anything else you’d like to share before we close things?

Todd Fleming: 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.

Laura Brandenburg: 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.

Todd Fleming: You’re welcome.

About The Business Analyst Blueprint®

When you join The Business Analyst Blueprint® certification program, you’ll learn all 12 of the industry-standard techniques and the business analysis process framework – to build your confidence in the best practices of business analysis.

You’ll create validated work samples and be a credentialed business analyst as a recipient of the Applied Certification in Business Analysis™ (ACBA).

>> Click here for more information about The Blueprint <<

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