The Citizen Developer
Help Your Citizen Developers Succeed and Thrive: Start Small!
Give fledgling citizen developers projects at which they are likely to succeed, to build their skills and confidence.
- By Howard M. Cohen
- September 19, 2023
Seventeenth-century philosopher René Descartes first suggested that we “divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it.” It also gave us cogito ergo sum which means, “I think, therefore I am.”
Today, we talk more about how to tackle a really large problem, and that the best way to do that is to break it down into many smaller problems and solve each one individually. In other words, start with the small things.
What about Why?
Popular leadership guru and visionary thinker Simon Sinek implores us to “start with why,” and with very good reason. Anyone who has ever planned anything has learned that you need to begin with goals; what is it you want to accomplish? In other words, why do you want to do what you’re planning to do? Until you figure out your why you may end up spinning in all kinds of directions. Effective managers, planners, developers, and more start each project with their “why.”
And for Citizen Developers?
If a new citizen developer has a large problem to tackle, that large problem should be assigned to someone else. Letting newcomers to this type of work bite off more than they can chew is the quickest way discourage them and ultimately turn them off on the role.
New citizen developers are best served (and best utilized) when they are given small, day-to-day problems to solve. People often refer to short-term solutions as “band-aids,” but solving these kinds of small problem may be the best thing for growing citizen developers. Bby creating a few band-aids to apply to simple tasks that would benefit from automation, they grow their skills and confidence.
Small functional projects give new citizen developers the opportunity to develop proficiency with their new low-code/no-code tools. Any initial mistakes they make are tolerable, because they impact only a small task that is likely not to be mission-critical to the enterprise. These projects may include automating repetitive tasks, such as sorting and categorizing, or monitoring and managing simple workflows to assure timeliness and accuracy.
People who have been working in a given environment for some time often identify small opportunities instinctively. When citizen developers have that ability and they’re able to respond immediately to those instincts, low-code/no-code stops being a development environment and becomes a highly valuable tool.
As each citizen developer builds a larger and larger library of small applications, including a host of re-usable components of their own creation, their readiness to take full advantage of the low-code/no-code platform to develop complete and comprehensive systems grows.
Managing the Growth of Your Citizen Developers
Even though they may not be developers themselves and may not be learning the low-code/no-code platform, managers can contribute mightily to the growth of their citizen developers. While they’re assigning band-aid-level projects, they can begin suggesting additions to them to better mitigate various risks. They can leverage the simple project to help the citizen developer understand the importance of being able to identify the ROI and other value to the enterprise it can produce. Working together, they can begin developing important related items including governance, security, and compliance plans and programs.
At the same time, the managers themselves will develop a better understanding of what their requirements from IT will be. Armed with that understanding, they can more effectively support, not only their citizen developers, but their full-scale application developers as well. Overall, small low-code/no-code projects create excellent opportunities for learning much more about the process of leveraging software in a far more granular fashion.
Gradual Integration Grows Better and Bigger Platforms
One of the primary goals of low-code/no-code is to reduce time-to-value. A citizen developer who undertakes to build an entire system from scratch is not going to do so quickly. Time-to-value will be anything but reduced.
Small individual projects can be inspired, developed, planned, coded, tested, and taken live in remarkably short order. Time-to-value is very, very short. Over time, as a citizen developer builds more individual components, it becomes more likely that all of those components can be gathered together and integrated into a greater whole. First, the citizen developer creates the bricks, then, they assemble the bricks to build a palace.
Project Management and Change Control
One way in which management can accelerate, control, and enhance the learning process for the citizen developer is to engage experts to teach them about effective project management, with a special focus on change control. It is highly likely that users will recommend changes frequently, and citizen developers will be better able to handle them with clearly defined change management processes.
When delivering project management and change control training, it’s important to remember that the goal is to create small, single-purpose applications. Extensive project planning is not necessary to complete them, and it can delay them if you’re not careful. But using small projects to introduce the concepts will significantly enhance the collaboration that citizen developers need from their colleagues.
It’s also important to recognize that low-code/no-code platforms are maturing and evolving, and as they do, their so does interaction with all the tools and utilities application developers are accustomed to using. As these platforms become more available and more effective, the interactions of citizen developers with professional coders will grow closer and more productive.
If you begin with “why” and start small!
Technologist, creator of compelling content, and senior "resultant" Howard M. Cohen has been in the information technology industry for more than four decades. He has held senior executive positions in many of the top channel partner organizations and he currently writes for and about IT and the IT channel.