7 Steps to Unleashing Your Citizen Developers

As digital transformation accelerates, organizations are searching for ways to enable all their employees—not just IT, development or DevOps teams—to design, build, iterate and launch new processes and applications as per their requirements. This democratizing approach is called citizen development—where business users are empowered to create their own processes and apps with only minimal supervision from IT, ultimately relieving them from IT backlogs.

How to Get Started with Citizen Development

Running a citizen development program doesn’t mean relegating IT to the sidelines. Citizen developers can often be prone to mistakes due to their lack of programming background. Limited skills may also result in creating a faulty app or unknowingly developing one that resembles existing software that serves the same purpose.

Thus, citizen development calls for a new relational approach that’s founded on transparency, trust and dialogue between IT specialists and non-IT employees.

As a business leader, you’re in the best position to initiate such a program. Here are the steps you can take to get you started:

1. Identify citizen development potential

You can issue surveys across departments or meet with division heads to understand who is using forms of shadow IT or already using citizen development tools, what they’re using these for and the number of users of these apps. Your findings can help you assess which departments have the most citizen developer candidates.

Also, determine your company’s backlog of IT requests and current IT pain points. Knowing the pent-up demand will give you an idea of ​​what issues, citizen developers can seek to resolve.

2. Set clear goals

Communicate what citizen development aims to accomplish for your organization. Identify the apps you intend to create, the mode of deployment, the role of citizen developers and which departments will benefit.

3. Get support from IT and fellow business leaders

Find partners in the IT team and among other managers who can help champion your vision for citizen development.

First, approach the potential managers who will be collaborating with you in this cause. Getting their support early can aid you in establishing a more well-rounded vision and avoiding any conflicts down the road. By helping them understand how it will actually boost their department’s workflows instead of delaying internal tasks, you’d be able to muster credibility for your proposal.

Meanwhile, assure your IT team that there’ll be a clear delineation of responsibilities between citizen developers and IT personnel. Employees will undergo self-directed and group training before being allowed to access a development environment. The software development life cycle will also be documented to make citizen developers aware of the process and necessary requirements for submitting their ideas. Moreover, IT developers will still be in charge of providing documentation, evaluating ideas and offering technical guidance with regular check-ins.

4. Shortlist low-code/no-code platforms according to your business needs

It would be best to look for low-code platform providers, schedule demos and invite IT and business unit leaders during dedicated sessions. They can compare feature sets and appraise learning curves with you.

5. Lay down a governance plan

A governance plan ensures that data security best practices are in place and that IT assistance is well-defined in your citizen development program. Such a plan should cover:

  • The evaluation process for admitting projects into the citizen developer backlog or IT backlog
  • Standard compliance and security requirements for any project accepted for citizen development
  • Standard workflow protocols including testing, validation, audit and integration
  • What instances will require IT involvement

6. Get senior management buy-in

You’ll need to communicate your intentions with your senior executives and prepare to formally present your citizen development plan.

  • Establish the rationale behind the plan. Compare internal metrics with industry stats showing the current need for citizen developers. Cite success stories or case studies.
  • Share internal figures pointing to the current IT backlog as well as results of surveys and discussions with employees and fellow managers.
  • Calculate and show your company’s projected one- to five-year ROI for using low-code/no-code platforms for citizen development.
  • Introduce your proposed governance plan and pilot program.

7. Start training

The citizen developers should be given time to learn the selected low-code/no-code platform. You can later pick a use case to pilot the tool. Identify your expectations and criteria to measure the success of the project.

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