Project Management

What Is a Citizen Developer?

From the Citizen Development Insights Blog
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Citizen development is a disruptive approach to digital transformation and organizational innovation, where teams are empowered to turn ideas into applications using no-code/low-code technology. This blog provides insights, advice and practical knowledge from thought leaders and practitioners in Citizen Development.

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5 Top Citizen Development Myths Busted

Empowering Citizen Developers: Overcoming 5 Common Challenges Together

Citizen Development: The Path to Success Starts Small

Can No-Code/Low-Code ERP Replace Traditional ERP Platforms?

No Code, Big Bucks: How Citizen Developers Can Capitalize on the Future of Tech 


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A citizen developer is someone who can build applications without coding knowledge, but usually with the support of IT. They tend to be domain experts who have a deep understanding of a business process or a series of tasks performed in the organization. They are therefore very well placed to identify new opportunities that improve operational efficiency or allow the business to better serve its customers.

As PMI embarks on an exciting new journey to help you harness the power of citizen development, we here at are launching new content on our Citizen Developer topic page and through this brand new blog!

I wanted to share the following information from the the PMI Citizen Development Body of Knowledge (CDBOK™) to help introduce you to this exciting new revolution

Who Can Be a Citizen Developer?
Citizen developers come from all walks of life. They could be sales executives who feel they can spend much more time with their customers if the administrative tools were easier to use. Or they could be payroll administrators who want to reduce the number of manual steps and interactions with the employees when approving expenses.

They could also be externally hired consultants who have been brought in to support the organization in its digital transformation. A key common aspect is that citizen developers are people who are willing to make the change, to create the solutions that they, their team, their department or their customers need.

The Emergence of Shadow IT
Citizen developers have been around for some time. In the past, they were the people who made a difference by building macros in spreadsheets using Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) or who identified ways to improve their work and the work of others. Arguably, from an IT perspective, these people caused all sorts of problems. They introduced risky, unsupported, and often poorly designed applications that lacked any standard or control.

In doing so, they created operational risk, key-person dependency, and fueled the creation of what has come to be known as “shadow IT” (an unsupported and unsanctioned IT).

In our rapidly changing business and technology landscape, organizations must constantly evolve to maintain relevance. IT departments are tasked with the responsibility of delivering business change; however, with the increasing demand for software and training, IT departments have limited ability to cope with this ever-expanding backlog of wants and needs.

Approximately 79% of IT leaders and decision makers agree that they are under a constant source of pressure to manage this (Project Management Institute, 2020), while being able to “keep the lights on” and ensure the existing IT estate continues to function alongside the higher demand.

IT also has to deal with limited budgets in addition to increasingly scarce and in-demand skilled technical specialists. One consequence of this inability to deliver is the emergence and growing reliance of shadow IT, which is the result of business owners and stakeholders reaching for other options to address their challenges rather than waiting for IT to address them.

Many see shadow IT as a threat (95% of IT decision makers recognize the risks associated with shadow IT, 43% worry about the lack of data governance, and 37% agree that a major source of risk is the inherent lack of ownership and change control). Despite the risk, shadow IT does bring value to the organization. First and foremost, shadow IT is a solution for an unaddressed need. This need could be a more efficient way of working with technology, a better employee or customer experience, or even a new customer offering.

The New Breed of Citizen Development Platforms
Until recently, employees didn’t have the tools or the capacity, and IT may not have had the capacity to support or address their needs in a significant way. Today, that situation has changed. Citizen development platforms have matured to the point that they minimize the need for manual coding when building serious, enterprise-grade applications. They are much more accessible to those without formal or lifelong technical learning and training. As a result, their usage (both IT sanctioned and unsanctioned) is exploding.

According to Gartner, “By 2024 at least 65% of all new business applications will be created with high-productivity toolsets, such as low-code and no-code application development platforms.” (Vincent, Natis, Iijima, Wong, Ray, Jain, & Leow, 2020).

By 2023, the number of active citizen developers at large enterprises will be at least 4 times the number of professional developers (Wong, Driver, & Ray, 2019).

Enabling Digital Transformation
Organizations are beginning to see the citizen developer as a key enabler of digital transformations. Inside organizations, citizen developers can use these new platforms to solve problems they repeatedly run into. They are no longer limited by the lack of coding capability and no longer have to wait for IT to provide resources.

Many business problems can now be quickly ideated into solutions and put through a development process to create applications that bring immense value to organizations. Other problems that may require IT support for extensive changes, such as complex integrations, can still be rapidly built by the citizen developer into a minimum viable product (MVP) that can then be handed over to the technical team to be completed. Citizen developers can unleash innovation and productivity gains unlike any recent developments in application development.

In order to experience these productivity gains, however, citizen developers need to be given the authority and freedom to act. This requires new ways of working and new ways of thinking at an organizational level. IT departments are guardians of the organization and provide a vital service that protects the organization from harmful events, such as external hacking or service availability.

IT departments also have another important role to play in support of citizen development: They can guide and help citizen developers to design applications by giving guidance on technical requirements and supporting publish-worthy applications. This is a particularly important part of unleashing the value of citizen development applications as their usage scales in the organization.

In summary, IT departments will need to become accustomed to working with the business instead of for the business, becoming a key partner to the business on its citizen development journey. When working with IT as a partner, citizen developers can help reduce the technology backlog while executing digital transformations at speed.

To learn more about how to join the Citizen Revolution, read how PMI can help you!

Posted by Cameron McGaughy on: November 30, 2020 04:38 PM | Permalink

Comments (7)

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Eduin Fernando Valdes Alvarado Project Manager| F y F Fabricamos Futuro Villavicencio, Meta, Colombia
Thanks for sharing

Joseph Galyas Senior Project Manager| Verizon Boca Raton, Fl, USA
It would be critical to have a framework within the organization for this much needed change. It is the most compelling reason for an organization not to adopt this method of development.

Deniz Gezer Acartürk Consultant| Self Employed Çankaya, Ankara, Türkiye
Including the security and service availability issues mentioned, I think there are two other important questions needed to be answered while supporting "citizen developers" within the company:
1. What will be the process of maintanence and support for the products developed by the citizen developers? How can the service regarding these products be managed?
2. How will the product knowledge be transfered and shared between business and IT? What will the process of knowledge management be designed?

Taoufik Eiadeh Project Manager| Huawei Abu Dhabi, Az, United Arab Emirates

Jelili Odunayo Kazeem Co-Founder| Convosync Solutions Limited Enugu, En, Nigeria
The world is moving and COVID-19 has shown us that faster response is a way out of the debate. With Citizen Developer in place, products or services will be delivered cheaper and faster. This revolution will create a massive growth for the organization, the employee and the customers.

Aws Shehab Deputy IT Manager & Financial Affairs Support| ATU Duty Free Salalah, Dhofar, Oman
Love the Idea of CD

Mariya Dimitrova Bulgaria

Thank you for the great article! ?? ??‍?? In other words, a citizen developer is a non-technical user who creates business applications. So, they are normally not skilled in IT and professional training. However, they do have key knowledge about what a business app should do for them, to solve their problems and increase productivity. ?? ?? Development by them is done in platforms that are easy and fast to learn to use, and that mix powerful features with flexibility. Low-code and no-code platforms stand out here, because they allow citizen developers to develop apps without the need, or with very little need, of training. They don’t know how to code, so they use platforms that allow them to develop without coding. 

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