“It was 2009 and if you remember in the economy, 2009 was a very difficult time, particularly in, in the real estate markets. So the company was doing its best. And, and the entire nation was suffering with a recession and trying to figure out how do I keep my job. I had decided I really wanted to try consulting. And the company that I worked for, we use a lot of consultants and so they were hire large amounts from consulting companies. … I happened to get a call from someone who says, Hey Heather, um, I think that we can now place you somewhere. And I had an interview and in the height of, um, things not going well, I was able to start a consulting career. I’m so grateful for that, uh, shift and it was, it was a time that I just wanted to try it. I wanted to see am I good at this because I know what I’m doing or am I good at this because I’ve worked here for so many years and I know everyone and know the systems and the processes and is it truly something that I’m great at.”
Hello everyone and welcome to the traceability podcast. Today our guest is Heather Mylan-Mains. Heather is a business analyst, a consultant and trainer, and a featured speaker at business analysis events and conferences. She’s also a member of the board of directors of IIBA international and a founder of the central Iowa IIBA chapter. So welcome Heather. We’re so excited to have you join us today.
Heather Mylan-Mains (00:38):
Tracie, it’s an honor to be here. Thank you for asking. I’m excited to share.
Usually what we do here is we just sort of go back to the beginning, so I would just like to understand how did you get to be a BA? What did you study in school? How did that end up connecting with being a BA, uh, et cetera?
Tracie, it’s such a great, great story because I did not set out to be a business analyst at all. As a matter of fact, I graduated with a degree in accounting and I was working at a financial services company. I’m doing is expense management for insurance products and the way that companies track expenses is time and we needed a better way to be more accurate with our time. And so I got involved with a developer to create a time allocation system and it was that experience that led me to realize I was a BA and I owe the entire conversation to the developer who told me, Heather, you’re really a business analyst. And I thought, Oh okay, I don’t know what that is. And it led to a journey of discovery and an opportunity to leave my current role when I was on maternity leave and at a very low point, my life led me to a shift in a job that was a part time accounting expense management role as well as a system administrator role that eventually found its way to be a business analyst. So I was a reluctant BA and certainly not technical at all. I just have an aptitude for understanding connections. And actually the background in accounting is a great background to allow for concepts of materiality and gap analysis. So many of the things that are important in our, our skills as a BA.
That is awesome. And I love, I love how you had someone who sort of recognized the BA in you when you didn’t necessarily recognize that’s what you were doing. And so I think that that was very opportune, that someone was able to recognize that gift in you and sort of help you, um, step onto the BA path, so to speak.
It is, and it, it gets even better as people who shepherd me along the way. I was in a business area and the central Iowa chapter of IIBA was new. And I had, I even blogged about this, you mentioned you’d read it. I can thank Disney for my career because I got involved with an imaging system as a BA and their conference was going to be held at Disney world and I really wanted to go and I thought, well, how am I going to get there? So part of the journey was that I volunteered to be part of a user group and to lead and facilitate a group of experts in the financial services for this imaging product and in as a gift to the company offered a free conference pass. So the conference pass was offered at no cost. I was able to get my company to give me the time off and I excelled in this role.
I didn’t even know what it was. I just said yes because I wanted to go to Disney. And in that that journey, my boss recognized, Hey Heather, you are excelling in this role of leading a group of people and we have this opportunity at the local IBA. I think you really need to take it. And I said, yes, absolutely I did. I know what I was signing up for. I had no idea. But I had a leader who recognized in me my ability to lead groups of people in this user group forum. And I joined the local chapter of IIBA and the, and the journey just took off from there. And I eventually became president of the chapter. And you’d mentioned the introduction. I am now volunteering as a director representing and advocating for all of the practicing analysts and helping to shape the future of what our career will be. So it’s been a gift for me to have leaders that recognized or colleagues and said, Hey, you know, check it out. So part of my key to success is to say yes.
Yeah, I was just going to bring that up because not only did you have sort of those mentors who could sort of point you in specific directions, but when they did, you said yes and I, I think, uh, sometimes some of us can maybe have a little bit of trepidation to try things that we haven’t done before and to, and to go off in new directions. And so I think that’s cool. Not only did they recognize it, but then you went with it afterwards.
Absolutely. And that’s, that’s true for any analysis career too. I think, uh, for me personally, not only did I excel in, in those leadership opportunities that I took on and I floundered, let’s, let’s be honest, it wasn’t something that came completely easy. I had to find mentors and learn what I was doing. I had to learn what IIBA was. That was, it was new. IIBA is really not that old and it’s still a frilly, fairly new organization. And in my work I have always been willing to say yes to try new experiences even when I knew nothing about them. And I know that’s another attribute as an analyst that organizations appreciate that you just get in there and figure it out.
So sort of what was going on where you made the decision to start consulting and kind of doing your own thing
that Oh that is a good story too. So I was working at a financial services company in a commercial real estate area and it was 2009 and if you remember in the economy, 2009 was a very difficult time, particularly in, in the real estate markets. So the company was doing its best. And, and the entire nation was suffering with a recession and trying to figure out how do I keep my job. I had decided I really wanted to try consulting. And the company that I worked for, we use a lot of consultants and so they were hire large amounts from consulting companies. And I as a president of IIBA, I did know most of the consulting companies around Des Moine because of my relationship to ask for their support for our chapter. And I asked every single one of them, you know, I really want to try this, but because I’d worked for this particular company, they weren’t willing to give me that chance.
And it was against their contract to pull employees away. Well, at this point, all of the consultants had been let go. Many of the full time people have been let go. And I happened to get a call from someone who says, Hey Heather, um, I think that we can now place you somewhere. And I had an interview and in the height of, um, things not going well, I was able to start a consulting career. I’m so grateful for that. Uh, shift and it was, it was a time that I just wanted to try it. I wanted to see am I good at this because I know what I’m doing or am I good at this because I’ve worked here for so many years and I know everyone and know the systems and the processes and is it truly something that I’m great at. I had taken, um, the training offered through, um, B2T training at the time and had a great foundational start to what business analysis is.
And I applied all of those skills and techniques. I was really grateful for my time and my commercial real estate area because we had to build new systems. There are not off the shelf products available for commercial real estate. It’s a very niche business. So I literally worked with the experts and partnered with the data modelers, with developers, with the architects to write the rules from the ground up for the data, for the process, for the screen layout, everything they user experiences, the use cases, everything from the ground up. And I did that at least two times. So that gave me a great foundation to take into consulting. So it was, it was, it was the sad news. The day I gave my notice because there were three people in my department who were let go. Now I can tell you, Tracie, I’d worked there for 17 years and I prayed in a regular basis.
I would get fired, which is an odd choice. However, I would have had 17 years of severance. I was a single mom at the time and I couldn’t risk not having a job for a period of time, but if I’d had 17 weeks of severance, I thought, okay, I could totally go and make something out of it. And I didn’t have to do that. And I actually went to HR and I said, can those people please have their job back? I’m so sorry. I, I, they, you know, what was done was done for them. So it was a, it was an interesting transition to, to leave. But when I got to consulting, that was an eye-opening experience for me as well.
I bet it was. Um, you just reminded me about my time at my first organization. You know, I had been there almost 19 years and it is uh interesting, you’ve got that feeling of security and the benefits that come from tenure and that kind of thing, but at the same time you sort of have this push to try other things and see what you can do.
Yeah, it was literally, I was having a conversation internally where I was struggling with I either I’m going to stay at this company until I retire or I need to leave now. And we’ve seen such a shift in how people work. It’s gone are the days where you go out of college and work at a company and retire, you know, 45 years later. That is not the model that we’re following. And part of the challenge for those of us that are of a, you know, older generation, I guess that sounds funny. I’m older now that we could, we have flexibility, but we didn’t feel that wasn’t natural. I’m guessing you had a struggle leaving as well.
Yeah, it’s scary a bit because you’ve, you’ve had sort of a comfort zone that you’ve lived in for a long time. You’re not sure if you really have what it takes to be the, the BA that, uh, the new place may expect you to be and that kind of thing. But at the same time I get the feeling that you like me just sort of have this drive that I need to be able to prove myself. I need to be able to go and do and, um, be an influence in other areas.
It is, and it’s, it’s really powerful to, to realize, and I’m a big advocate because I’ve been consulting now for awhile, that it truly is not your years at a company that make you a valuable analyst. It is your years in business analysis and your ability to come into any situation and with some skills and techniques quickly have an understanding, enough of an understanding. I’m not a subject matter expert, but I have enough that I can help solve problems in any different business area. I think companies to retain high performing people, especially in the business analysis space. I think they should move them around and they should give them those opportunities to apply their skills in a different perspective because it’s like, it’s like starting a new job every time, but you could still be your same company. And I, I’d actually asked for that opportunity before I left.
And that was not something that that happened. So it was, it was a sign when someone said, Hey, I’m going to give you a try at this. And I had the best experience in my first consulting opportunity. Interestingly enough, I had this perception, the word had a connotation in my head of such expertise. I worried was I that experts. What was interesting when I, and I had such a great leader, Amy. Amy was my leader and she taught me so much because she had the courage as a leader to recognize when consultants weren’t performing. So for example, I got there and I had a person that I was working with and they’d been at the same company that I was. I was a level four. This person was a level three. So I would have thought we’d had similar skill sets. And this person didn’t know how to use Vizio and didn’t know how to take screenshots.
So my first thought was, Oh my gosh, what kind of analysis did you do? And, and business analysis is different everywhere. You know, it could have been different skills, but I had the conversation with my leader, I said, I can teach her, would you like me to do that? I’m kind of thinking that’s not what you hired me for. And she said, no, that’s not what I want to hire you for. And she had the courage as a leader to say, you know, this isn’t a fit for you. You are not the right kind of analysts that we’re looking for. And that taught me a lot as well because we need to have courage to recognize when we’re not a fit for an opportunity. And if we don’t have a leader that lets us know that and gives us that feedback, which is another topic I’m kind of passionate about…
We are not going to progress. And I love that experience. So I learned that I was a consultant. I was good at what I did because I was good at what I did, not because I’d worked there for five years or 10 years or any amount of time and it was a great experience to learn what consulting is. And through that connection I got different opportunities and I’ve, I’ve not had an assignment, um, except for one which we won’t talk about, that I learned nothing or, or didn’t gain something. I had one really bad experience the rest of is golden and it has been, um, an opportunity that’s led me to, to do more things. I mentioned I could teach or train through my experience with IIBA. So I would encourage anyone listening if they aren’t a part of a local IIBA chapter or you don’t know what IIBA is, I would encourage you to get involved to become a better analyst. My time working with IIBA and leading the chapter and volunteering internationally has made me a better analyst and it has enabled me to create relationships that have led to additional career opportunities. I’d mentioned that I, I took training from B2T and that was a great foundation. So I’m always good to recommend, get some formal training. If you’ve been homegrown and you don’t know what it is, get some training. That’s a first step.
Yeah. Um, you know, thinking back to my career and when some of my career change really started happening, it’s another plug for the IIBA, you know, because there was a, I finally found a group of people that were doing work that I was doing in other organizations and it gave me an opportunity to network, which I didn’t really know how to and put me in front of a lot of a lot of people and gave me opportunities to lead and et cetera. And so, yes, definitely another plug for the IIBA for training. Um, I was fortunate that, uh, I had a, a boss who was very short term with us, um, but he actually really encouraged me to get some of my training. I was able to do that and that made me confident enough that once I was with the IIBA, I started pursuing my business analysis certification through IIBA. And so, yeah, definitely I agree on um, how being part of a, a chapter, some organization locally in your area can help you really start moving down a particular path.
It is, and that’s so true, Tracie. I love that we have a connection. I love that many of the people that you’ve had conversations with already in your podcasts, that we have relationships. It’s enabled those people that share the same passion and commitment to a career, to have a network, to bounce ideas off of. It’s important, you know, as a BA, I dislike being the only analyst in my organization. Sometimes that’s what the assignment is. And so what I do is I reach out to my network. I don’t know about you, but I remember the very first building business capability conference that I went to and it changed my life in that it opened my eyes. We have, Lee may have met, I don’t remember which one we met at Tracie, but it opened my eyes to, Oh my goodness. There are people all around the world who are doing the same kinds of things. I am. And by the way, the same problems and opportunities exist and every organization, no matter this shies or product or service, right, it’s all the same. So what a benefit it is to connect and be able to, to leverage, uh, conversations that help us all to be better in our career.
So I wanna go back to something you brought up because I know it’s a topic that’s big for you is feedback. So in sort of, uh, my most, uh, toxic job, you know, I knew pretty early on the, the organization and I weren’t, we’re not a fit for each other, but I didn’t necessarily get any feedback about that until I was pretty long into my tenure there. What would, what would you want to say about, um, feedback and the necessity of getting the feedback early on toward moving to a more successful, uh, situation?
Yeah. Thank you so much for that. Because a feedback’s been, I’ve had an interesting feedback journey myself because if I receive feedback, my natural response is I’m a failure, I’m getting fired. Um, I will never be successful. I have a very, very difficult inner dialogue, which caused me to truly study it and start presenting on it and sharing some of my feedback successes. One of the things that I would tell anybody is that, well, I’ll recommend reading the book “Crucial Conversations”. That’s one that really helped me be able to have better conversations to one, realize that, uh, I need to take emotion out of it. I need to stop thinking about I’m feeling and I need to stick to facts, which is a great framework for analysis in general, right? Because we get involved with initiatives and there’s a lot of opinions and there’s a lot of feelings and then there’s the facts.
So if we can strip away our feelings and really try to look and see and evaluate what is happening, I think, uh, you have to be willing to be afraid but yet do it anyway. So if you’re having a situation, um, if you are in an environment where you are being criticized or there is a lot of ugly emotional bull, I want to use the word bullying. I think sometimes we can be bullied in our, in our roles. You have to have the confidence and the courage to set that aside and to look at the facts. What do I know to be true? And when you can isolate that, you can have the conversation with whoever is appropriate, if it’s your leader or if it’s someone in human resources. Um, I lean up in my background, I’ve been bullied more than once in a corporate environment and had to have conversations about it.
And it has taught me that you do not serve yourself to be silent. And that is also something that I think is natural to some people to just take it like it’s not that bad. I’ll just take it. It’s a paycheck. I need the job. Well, no, stop doing that and stop being silent, but have your argument be based on facts. And when you take that conversation just to whoever is appropriate in your organization and their response is, well, you’re being ridiculous. That’s when you should probably consider your options and be confident enough to know that you will find a job somewhere else. I’m just having a situation with my kids that are of a different generation and they will quit a job at the drop of a hat, which freaks me out. I am like, what? Hold on. I can’t not have a job.
I got, I mean, I think you should give your notice. I think you should quit. You better be looking for a job right away. Right. It’s, it’s, it’s a totally a different generation and how they’ve, they feel. So be confident enough to, to, to advocate for yourself and feedback is part of that. And if you’re not getting, uh, if you’re not able to resolve the difficulties and the, and the poor behavior culturally continues is your, I love what you said. It’s okay not to fit in. It’s okay to leave. And it’s okay to realize that there’s something better for me down the road. But that’s not easy. That’s an easy conversation with yourself. I bet you had a hard time in your situation too.
I, I did. It is not an easy conversation to, to have to sort of, um, recognize that you have some weaknesses that you need to work on, uh, as far as your career skills. But also you end up sort of needing to fight for yourself all the, all the time. And that can be a little taxing in the long run. It is better to sort of understand what those weaknesses are and fight for yourself so that you can sort of move on in a healthy, healthy way when the situation is over.
Yeah. Something else. Um, and in my career that is important for us all to realize is that we have no control over what someone else does in our career. We have no control over how someone treats us over the words that are used. We hundred percent always have control over what we do with that information. So I would almost say approach those situations as a project and use your analysis skills. Okay, what’s the current state? What’s going on, what are the pros and cons here? What actually happened? What is the truth? And when you can sift through that and if you’re in an environment where the truth and the facts are not recognized and someone else can’t see what their part is in it, cause you’re right, none of us are perfect. We can always improve how you share that message that you need to improve as a different topic and one that that we should explore a different conversation.
But it is important as we’re thinking about our career, don’t think that there’s only one place you can ever work cause I’m going to tell you right now that is 100% not true. Also, do not think that you’re not replaceable. Every single one of us is replaceable. And I don’t mean that we’re not unique or special or valuable because of course we are. We were very, very great on our own, but there are other people that are great and a fit for an organization too. So don’t think that you can treat someone a certain way because you’re the most amazing resource at that company. No, not true. There might be some pain and transition is that change happens and they find a different resource. Absolutely. But none of us are so special that we can’t be put in a different situation. So, so I say I needed to leave may times we get invited to leave organizations and it’s crushing and it feels terrible. But your career is not over.
And you know, interestingly enough, once you make the first leap, the rest of the leaps become easier to take.
Yes, it is the truth for sure. And another thing I’d say about, about this topic too is don’t be afraid to diversify. I’m so excited for you. I’m taking a journey to try something new with this podcast and sharing information about people’s careers. I, uh, obviously was mentioned already that I needed something more. I wanted to try consulting and that was scary. And luckily it worked out and don’t think I’m not scared every single time because I am, there’s a little bit of fear, no matter that I’ve proven myself and I have not been fired yet and I’m not going to not have other opportunities, but there’s still a little bit of me that’s like, Whoa, I better do a really good job. I also started to train, so I had this relationship I mentioned with B2T where I’d taken my training and I thought, you know, I think I want to try something else.
I love being a business analyst and I will never stop doing that in some way, shape or form. But I thought maybe I could, I could take this training to a new level and try something different. So I was able to start trying with, uh, B2T to teach. And that was an interesting, uh, situation. I talk about this when I do teach about feedback because my first experience I team taught with someone who’s very experienced. She’s amazing, you know, 20 years of experience on me been doing this so many more times and, and the four day course, two days or with her another two days with me and she was so gracious and I thank her regularly for her feedback and, and shepherding as I go through this to let me know that I was going to be OK. Cause I said right away I can’t do this. I’m never going to be this person. I’m never going to be Kathy. And she’s amazing. And Kupe Kupersmith who I’ve had a long term professional friendship with is he was the president at the time. He’s like, Heather, I cry almost every time I say this, I’m probably going to cry again.
It’s so silly. You’re going to be great. So the feedback to tell somebody you’re okay, see how emotional I get. I, I’m like an M&M this hard shell outside, but really soft.
I, I think that just speaks to the ways that we can influence people for, um, positive or negative. I think too often we maybe, um, come up people from a more negative space. Uh, and, uh, I think, uh, at least as far as your conversation with Kupe was concerned, he came at it from a, you don’t have to be Kathy kind of kind of space, you know, and he came at it from a, be Heather and you are valuable and, and um, this will get better.
Absolutely. And it’s, it’s, it teaches us when we are mentoring and training someone else who might be having those same feelings or thinking they need to be some, some level of perfection. Well first of all, no one starts out being perfect at anything that they do. And I know that there, there are things in my life I’m going to die and mortality, you know, maybe and the attorneys get better at it. But right now I’m still going to be working on perfecting things and it is important as we are going through our, and as you become more senior in our career, we have an opportunity to shepherd someone else along that journey. And we need to be very mindful. I’m very careful about helping others to be successful, which is another key of business analysis is you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room and let everyone else know that you are, you have to have a roof sponsor ability to create positive energy in space so that everyone on the team can be successful. It’s such an exciting role to have that opportunity and responsibility to be confident enough in who you are that you don’t have to be the center of attention. Absolutely. That’s a hard one.
And that’s something that I’m kind of learning right now and I’m one of the older, um, employees, uh, my office. I’m, I’m treated a little more as a consultant. I don’t have to do as many of the deliverables. There’s sort of more expected from some of the younger folks on the business and operational side of things. And so it, it is interesting sort of, um, growing up a little bit and taking the step back to this is a value I can bring and I can, you know, help others to develop some of these positive traits and skills without sort of doing that work for them. And so that, that’s been an interesting thing for me.
It is. And it’s hard. I remember one of the assignments I was on, um, at one point they were needing to find a leader, a fulltime leader, um, for their business analysis space. And I was so flattered because many of my coworkers or peers said, Heather, I really think you would be great at this. And I, I thought about it and I thought, no, that’s really not what I, that’s not where I want my career to go. I, I’m interested in, in getting more skills in the consulting space. But I also in the back of my mind thought, Oh my gosh, then I’m going to have to hire somebody to do what I know I need to do and I’d rather just do it. So it’s kind of hard to delegate. And that’s another part of our career success is to be willing to let someone else have that experience and, and review and, and mentor along the way, but not, not just take over and do for them.
So that was another way I kind of grew into my mind space to, to grow. So it’s been fun to, to now teach and train, which is not the same as mentoring. It’s a very different skill set and it’s, it’s rewarding for me to be able to share, these are things that have worked for me and these are challenges I’ve had. And also just to talk, you know, what’s going on in your space, what have you tried? Have you tried this technique? Have you, um, had conversations with other BAS at your space? You know, there’s a lot that we can do to help each other out when we’re willing to ask for help.
As we wrap up today, what are some of the new things that you’re working on? I, I know, um, you’re looking at doing a new website and new training program.
Yes, yes, absolutely. So I have, uh, in addition to doing the in person training, um, I have started to author content for Pluralsight. So Pluralsight is an online learning and subscription service and I authored a couple of courses and I’m hoping to do many more. That is also a learning curve. You are learning through this Squadcast, uh, platform to record and it takes on a whole new level to, uh, share content in that way and to record your voice is pleasant all the time. So that’s been a fun experience for me too, to have that um, learning behind me and I’m looking to launch a new brand and kind of not just focused on business analysis, but my passion is really along this journey of helping other people to be successful. And so there I see possibilities. So the new brand is “Possibilities with Heather” and it’s, it’s an opportunity for me to share my story.
I would like to do more in the public speaking space and really just encourage and motivate other people with my story and let them know that really anything is possible. Short of me becoming an Olympic athlete. But I don’t really want to do that. If I really wanted to, I probably, you know, let’s make smart goals. Let’s talk about that too. There’s a level of reasonableness. Um, my modeling days are probably behind me. Um, I’m joking. I never wanted to be a model, but the idea of, of trying to consider what you want and sharing that story as well as honestly, um, Tracie business analysis is for everyone. It’s, it’s true. We critical thinking is kind of a lost art in our society. So I’d like to do more to share that story and I like to write a book, you know, maybe that will happen this year. So I’ve got a lot of things that I still want to do, uh, as well as continue to help and support the mission of IIBA and we are not yet understood and every company, Tracy, we need to get that message across. Why, why business analysis matters. It’s still a conversation. That’s a struggle, oddly enough, right?
It is. You know, so much of the focus these days is on STEM skills, but I think STEM skills are not enough because in actuality what we really need are the analytical and the communication kind of skills to be able to put the STEM skills to use.
And yeah, when you face, when you face a problem, you can’t Google the answer. Right. We kind of sometimes just use some old fashioned basic skills and figure it out. Right. Oh, thanks so much for having me. I’ve, I’ve enjoyed sharing and uh, thanks for listening.
Yeah. Thank you so much for being here today. And so how can folks find you
possibilitieswithheather.com will be the new, I’m on LinkedIn. Um definitely connect. I would love, and just a word to everyone. If you connect on LinkedIn with me and probably other people, please don’t just send me a blind request. I need to know that I’ve got a connection with you. I am a protective of my network and if you let me know, Hey, I heard something that you shared with on a podcast, uh, I like to connect with you. That’s enough of a message and uh, reach out to me that way. I love to stay in touch.
Well, very good. And so for those of you listening, if you liked what you heard today, or if something in particular resonated with you, here’s your call to action. Leave me a firstname.lastname@example.org or email me at Tracie, T R a, C, I email@example.com.