Have you been looking at ways that you can solve problems in your business using low-code/no-code tools and platforms? When you are taking the first steps towards being a citizen developer, here’s what you need in my experience:
First of all, you´ll need an open mind-set!
However, this blog isn´t about picking the right tool (which is explained in more detail here). Instead, it is about acknowledging that you will need to go through several iterations in order to find the appropriate one for your purpose. And that´s absolutely fine!
Don´t worry about having to start from scratch with a new platform because all of them have their usability learning curve, but the development process and logic is similar, regardless of the technology provider used.
When speaking to seasoned citizen developers, a common denominator among all of them is that they have used different platforms throughout their journey and pivoted to others that have characteristics more suitable to their purposes, as they went about matching requirements to platforms.
The approach is as important as the mind-set
This idea of “playing with the tool” is crucial. No-code platforms gamify the experience of building applications. Some of them even offer a guided learning experience where you learn by building and playing with the tool and functionalities. Similar to a video game!
In addition to the technical training, you also need to consider including methodology training in your approach. This will help to anticipate and mitigate future pitfalls by applying, for instance, the PMI Citizen Developer methodology. Having a structured approach to building solutions is as important as knowing how to build them or what platform to use.
In summary, getting technical and methodology training will equip you with what you need to take the next steps on your citizen development journey.
Check what’s available already in your organization
Get stakeholders involved and select the use case
It is advisable to speak to the stakeholders involved in the business process or affected by the app you are creating beforehand. Understanding their requirements is key to assess the suitability of the use case.
Under the PMI Citizen Developer® framework, it is recommended to assess the suitability of a use case from two different standpoints: suitability of citizen development for the use case and suitability of the environment for citizen development.
One benefit of citizen development is having the ability to prototype while ideating the solution. This will help to get you closer to the business needs and accept or discard features of the solution. In the end, you want to answer the important questions at the beginning of the project.
So from keeping your mind open to selecting the initial use case, these are all critical components of becoming a citizen developer. Let me know how you are doing on your journey!
Not quite ready to scale? Don’t worry
Before we get into scaling citizen development, it’s worth remembering that relatively few organizations have reached this stage. With citizen development still a fairly new idea, companies that are still in the discovery or adoption phases certainly shouldn’t look upon this negatively. The most important thing is to start, and only when the proper elements are in place, should organizations look to scale. That said, let’s look at the scaling process for an idea of what to expect when the time comes.
Preparing to scale
So, you’ve launched your initial pilot by taking a suitable use case and experimenting with citizen development. You’ve assessed the results against key performance indicators and have relayed your findings to developers and stakeholders. This initial pilot will help you identify further use cases and determine what resources you will need to move forward.
You may also start to get requests for changes to be made or new features to be added to the applications that were developed by your citizen developers during the pilot. This will help you see which areas of the development process and product have been most successful, and which still need work. The types of requests will tell you whether citizen developers can handle the changes, or whether they should be handed to IT.
Go forth and spread the word
Now that you’ve tested citizen development and have concrete results to show, it’s time to get even more buy-in from the wider organization; this will be essential in successfully scaling citizen development. The small group you started out with is proof that there has to be a change in the way people think about software development – a change in culture.
You can evangelize citizen development throughout the organization by various means, including hackathons, blogs, events, and more. This will help you to find executive sponsors and problem solvers on both the business and IT sides. These people will spread the message via their own channels to get their colleagues fired up about citizen development.
The goal is to create a community around a central portal where people can share knowledge and collaborate. As enthusiasm for citizen development spreads, different departments will start to incorporate the strategy into their decision-making. One example is HR, who may want to consider the potential of a candidate to become a citizen developer when hiring new employees.
As you did with the pilot, it’s important to measure the performance of your citizen development initiatives during the scaling phase. Keeping track of how much of an impact citizen development applications have on the organization as a whole will be essential if the strategy is to be sustainable in the long run.
The aim post-scaling is to arrive at what we call the “zen stage”, in which your citizen development community is a self-perpetuating engine. By creating a dashboard that tracks metrics like the number of active users, backlog items, updates, etc., you’re able to make your successes transparent.
A win-win for the business and IT
We’ve just scratched the surface of scaling here, but it hopefully gives you an idea of the shape of the journey, and of the destination. When organizations have successfully surpassed the scaling phase, they arrive at a point in which the business is much more self-sufficient, and IT has more time to focus on higher-level initiatives. It can be a challenging journey, so it’s important to remind ourselves from time to time of those innovative organizations that have successfully started and scaled citizen development and who are winning in the next normal as a result.
What types of apps can citizen developers build?
Especially when starting out, citizen developers can excel in areas like administration, data-tracking, and reporting. These use cases are often processes that run on separate spreadsheets, or database tools.
Citizen developers can take part in developing applications for these processes, and moving them to a no- or low-code platform enables IT to provide governance. This is far more secure than having dozens of unsynchronized, unmonitored applications floating around in every department.
These types of administrative and reporting functions have a tendency to fall outside of IT’s radar, and so without citizen development, they may never make it to production. Through citizen development, organizations are able to start small with these types of apps, see concrete results, and scale over time. It allows the business to easily test multiple solutions without interfering with or violating the overall IT landscape.
The safety of a sandbox
How do citizen developers get started in a safe and controlled way? One effective way is to provide a sandbox. Providing a sandbox has two main advantages:
Citizen developers, especially if they’re new to the role, will have different skill levels and will work at different speeds. Providing a sandbox enables citizen developers to work in a way that is comfortable for them, and allows IT to control the output.
Once the application is ready for deployment, IT should provide citizen developers with clear instructions on the next steps. This helps ensure that citizen developers do not become overwhelmed by a stage of the development lifecycle that, after all, is probably new to them.
Examples could include making citizen developers aware that IT will run security and compliance tests, that IT manages imports and migrations, and that IT announces the release.
As is the case for all development methodologies, KPIs should have already been set so that you’re ready to test – and you know what you’re measuring. Regardless of your KPIs, it’s usually prudent to include some of the following in the testing process:
Sharpening the saw
It’s the last of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits for a reason. Once you’ve understood the impact of the application in terms of meeting KPIs, etc., this information should be communicated to the citizen developers, stakeholders, and the wider organization, with a view to improving the process moving forward.
It’s also important to recognize success and to ensure the organization as a whole recognizes it. A successful citizen development strategy is one that is refined over time and, to do this, it pays to have company-wide buy-in. The more people that see the success of the first citizen development initiative, the more people will want to take part in developing the next innovative solution, and the more talent you will have at your disposal.
The previous article in this series covered the elements organizations should consider in order to get started with citizen development. In this article, I’ll be looking at a fundamental part of successful citizen development strategies: governance.
The question is: how do organizations balance the need for visibility and security on one side, with a need to keep up with changing markets and speed up the delivery of digital products and services on the other?
Business-led development without governance is shadow IT
With the demand for digital services continuing to skyrocket and experienced developers few and far between, the business side of many organizations has found itself backed into a corner. There are only so many times business-side employees can see their innovative new ideas for processes, products, and services go to the bottom of IT’s ever-growing backlog.
For some time now, this handicapping of the business side has driven employees to start building their own solutions – regardless of whether IT is on board or not. This is what’s known as shadow IT and it can take the form of spreadsheets, messaging apps, external drives, and more.
The problem with shadow IT is that, by its very nature, it creates a multitude of risks to an organization. These risks can include the improper – and even illegal – use of data; widespread duplication of data; a lack of visibility; increased vulnerability to cyber-attacks; and more.
How does citizen development solve the problem of shadow IT?
When the challenge is that business employees will always find a way to build their own solutions regardless of IT’s involvement, the logical step is to provide them with a safe and governed way to do so. This is citizen development.
By giving business-side employees access to low-code and no-code platforms, you’re giving them an effective tool to solve their problems whilst providing IT with a way to govern everything they build.
The key to citizen development is to empower a new breed of developer without unnecessary limitations. By providing light-touch governance, business-side employees are free to work within the sanctioned environment IT provides, and risk is minimized when it comes to the most essential parts.
It’s all about layers. Think of it this way: any governance you provide is better than no governance at all, which is the reality for many organizations. With no-code and low-code platforms, IT can now set permissions and roles according to the level of risk. Governance should be reasonable, rather than restrictive.
How will citizen developers fit into the broader IT space?
It’s important that citizen developers follow the existing workflows and protocols within the full scope of IT’s efforts. An example of this is ensuring data coherence and standards for data handling.
A good starting point is to establish a master list of authorized data sources with a network of APIs to guide citizen developers and create a robust IT ecosystem. Establishing a clear plan for the data that citizen developers will work with, and how they work with it, creates alignment with the IT department and also serves to mitigate security risks.
When should citizen developers contribute to application delivery?
Organizations should also consider how to prioritize which applications will be built by citizen developers, and set guidelines as to the expectations for citizen developer output. For example, will departmental workflow applications or customer-facing apps take priority? How much of a citizen developer’s time should be allocated for application development and delivery, considering that it is probably not their primary role?
Accelerate innovation without losing control
When it comes to governance, low-code and no-code platforms create a win-win for the business and IT. IT has a transparent overview of all of the business side’s software activities, and is able to ensure everything is safe and secure. At the same time, the business side now has a central tool with which citizen developers can build solutions continuously, thereby improving their knowledge and skills with every project.
In other words, the risk to the organization decreases, and the speed of innovation increases. The business side can execute on its needs and ideas, and IT can focus on more than simply “keeping the lights on.”
The previous article – the first in this series – covered what citizen development is and the challenges that gave rise to it. If your organization experiences these challenges and you already see the benefits of implementing citizen development, where do you start?
It’s a good question because one thing you certainly don’t want to do is to dive into citizen development blindly, with no clear plan or strategy. Whilst citizen development is based on a simple – yet powerful – idea, executing it effectively is more complex.
There are many parts that need to fit together in order for the whole to work effectively. Though all of these parts can’t be covered in one article, let’s look at some of the fundamental steps and considerations for organizations when starting out with citizen development.
What does it take to be a citizen developer?
When we think about the types of people that would make for good citizen developers, we often think about people with a background in or affinity for technology. We think about people who may have dabbled in programming before starting out in their current career paths. However, whilst these attributes can bring advantages, organizations certainly shouldn’t rule out people who don’t fit this mold.
In fact, when it comes to citizen development, you could say that attitude is more important than aptitude. Organizations should look for natural problem solvers – experts in their fields who have the ability and the passion to lead change. They should be able to navigate organizational politics and manage projects and stakeholders effectively.
People with the right attitude will be seated throughout the organization and, more often than not, they will make themselves known through their drive to solve problems. The technology aspect – no-code and low-code platforms – can be learned. The right attitude, however, is more difficult to learn – and to teach.
Finding your citizen developers
One way to bring potential citizen developers together is to hold a hackathon and invite people from various departments within the organization to bring along a specific problem. The goal should be to enable business-side employees to work together with experienced developers to create a solution within the low- or no-code platform. This way, you find those people who are enthusiastic about citizen development and you present the wider organization with a way to solve their problems going forward.
3. Target problem-solving roles
There are certain roles that involve finding creative ways to solve problems on a daily basis. Think analysts, project managers, and roles that include a focus on continuous improvement. These people likely already have pressing problems for which they’re actively seeking a solution. If you approach them with a new way of solving their problem, you will usually find they’re more than happy to give it a try.
Fostering a culture of problem solving and collaboration
An effective citizen development strategy encompasses more than the technical implementation of a no- or low-code alone. It requires a paradigm shift – a change in the organization’s culture.
Consider the following scenarios that are commonplace in organizations today:
Conversely, citizen development works because you foster a culture of continuous improvement, of close collaboration between business-side employees and IT professionals. Both the business side and IT must be encouraged to start small and must know that failing fast is okay – that it’s what will lead to successful initial use cases and will set the foundation for scaling.
Whilst low- and no-code platforms are the medium with which organizations can solve problems, enterprises that have successfully implemented citizen development have placed an equal focus on creating the right culture.
Following on from culture is the idea of mentoring. Whilst it can sound a little vague on the surface – it’s not necessarily something you can easily document or set up a process for – it’s a crucial part of a successful citizen development strategy.
By mentoring, we don’t mean simply providing training or a helpline, we mean encouraging real, human relationships between the different types of developers. For organizations in which mentoring is present, the business side and IT have a shared language, making for more effective communication regarding the problem, the solution, and the technology.
Whenever a new technology is introduced, there will inevitably be unforeseen problems. Having strong relationships and a shared language will enable the different types of developers to get the project back on track when challenges arise.
Identifying suitable use cases (starting small)
The key to implementing citizen development effectively is to start small. Organizations should define the value they wish to see and then prove that value through manageable use cases. Think about digitizing and automating all of the paper-based and spreadsheet-based processes, the unstructured data, the invisible mechanics of the organization. Examples might include:
These processes might not be the most exciting place to start with your new technology and strategy, but they will enable you to demonstrate value. They will help you get buy-in from stakeholders and the wider organization, and will provide a foundation from which to scale.
Next time: Governance
In the next article in this series, I’ll be diving into how organizations ensure citizen development is properly governed, and what governance means for both the business side and IT.
Until next time!