Citizen Developer – Is that You?

Citizen Developer – Is that You?

This article was written by Yaniv Levi, one of our most Senior Solution Architects and Consultants working at AgilePoint. Yaniv has completed numerous complex and large-scale projects, and is an all-round Technology Evangelist with profound IT knowledge.

If you’re working in IT, you’ll probably have heard of the term Citizen Developer.

I was recently interviewed on the low-code platform, and following this interview was approached with questions about the term ‘Citizen Developers’ – what is the exact definition? What are their skillsets? Is there a course for citizen developers? Is it a new role? What challenges does it involve? And eventually, what value would they add at a company?

In the following article I’ll clear the mystery shrouding the term and answer this and other questions.

First is first – the definition, Citizen Developer

The term is composed of two words: Citizen and Developer.

Citizen – ANY legal member of the company/organization.

Developer – a person who CREATES computer software/applications/digital solutions.

So, the combined term is: Any legal member of the company/organization who CREATES computer software/applications/digital solutions, and the sum is bigger than its parts…

Put another way, Citizen Developer – ANY employee who CREATES software who is not a DEVELOPER by virtue of his/her role or position (note the ANY employee).

As an analogy, it’s just like volunteer police support/community – a civilian who volunteers to do and/or help with some routine and abstract police work. This is just one sample analogy out of many others (like volunteer medic and many more) – but Citizen Developer is no different in concept to those well-known volunteer roles, and once this has been said, it can help address and answer many of the question regarding Citizen Developers.

Is this a new role?

No. Citizen Developers are not new, not at all. The term is however somewhat new.

At any company you could always find the real smart and tech-savvy users who had mastered Excel/Word/Access/InfoPath and knew how to create these supercool “business apps” using Excel/Access/…  formula/tricks/macros. At some point, mainly in enterprise, they were called “key users”, “power users”, “IT Trusty” among other things.

Yet a few things have changed in recent years:

– On one hand, we live in a digital world and we are now “home-made” tech savvies. We all use social networks, managing our personal and professional digital space, creating our smart home, using IFTT to create recipes to connect RING to our Gmail to send notifications when the kids are back home and more…

– On the other hand, technology was greatly abstracted and simplified, including IT systems and technologies, using low-code platforms, cloud/shared services, app generators.

So, in recent years as these two climate changes met, it came to a point when almost any user at a company could be a “power user” – and thus the term evolved into Citizen Developer > almost any legal member/employee of the company can become a developer.

So what is the skillset of a Citizen Developer?

Citizen Developers do not have any specific skillset. The main skills for becoming a citizen developer are:

1. Tech instincts and rational logic – as mention we’re living in a digital world, so these are mostly “home-made” today, and as the generation is younger this “skillset” is more dominating.

2. Passion and willingness to contribute and change

Let’s refer back to the analogy of volunteer police support and how they would correlate:

Citizen DeveloperØ   Volunteer police support
Tech instincts and rational logicØHonesty, law believer
Passion and willing to change


ØPassion to help, serve and create a better community

It is imperative that these two conditions are met; what would volunteer police support be if he/she did not have any kind of affinity in serving and creating a better community? This is crucial to understand as this is the biggest pitfall in Citizen Development, it all starts here.

Is that enough?

It can be for small, departmental success stories, like back in the days of office macros.

But to make it a success story at company level and harness this climate change into company operational and business game changers, the organization will need to create a Citizen Developer climate, that is to:

1. Assign Citizen Developers: those employees who are eligible to be a Citizen Developer

2. Get the right tools  and services which can be abstracted and delegated into developers.

3. The first move to achieve a goal is to declare it. Create the initiative and support it with rules and resources.

4. Create a training/on-boarding program – training should provide the specific training for the services and tools chosen, but more importantly the practice and flow for creating new apps.

This would answer “is there a course for citizen developers?” > there is no specific general course. The company can and should create a training/on-boarding program.

5. Create support teams and rings – trained developers and IT professional should be assigned to support and review Citizen Developers initiatives and ongoing work.

6. Govern – This is the most important part to harness these climate changes into a managed and objective company success (aka Change Management). Note well that all the above items are to ensure better governance. Eventually, the idea is to delegate IT, app creation and digital transformation, NOT TO shadow it . The last thing any company would like is to find its LOB relying on yet another Excel macro or the like, and no one knows how to change and keep you back from upgrading office…

Let’s refer back to the analogy of volunteer police support and how they would correlate:

Citizen DeveloperØ   Volunteer police support
Get the right tools and servicesØIdentify the law and police work that can be delegated
Declare it ØCreate a volunteer community
Create training programØApplication form, academy basic training, on-job supervised hours, uniform badge, create credentials and provide required access
Create support teams and ringsØWork is backed and accompanied by official policeman/woman. 1 policeman/woman on a team of up to x volunteers (depending on mission)
GovernØWork mandate by police department, clear rules and responsibilities, close sync with volunteers

Where is the challenge?

There are two main challenges:

1. Choosing the right tools to provide the correct level of abstraction and delegation.

2. Out of the two this is the most comprehensive and significant challenge.

To mitigate these challenges:

1. Choose the right tools > decide on your audience and choose the correct tools from the audience perspective, skillset and the company Citizen Developer climate. See image 1 above.

2. Governance

– Governance should start before you start to delegate development to the citizen. The start is easier when governance is in place. Governance is easier when done right from the start.

– Make sure the chosen tools provide the built-in level of governance and control.

– Decide on areas of application type to allow delegation for Citizen Developers.

– Create onboarding program

– Guide the constant change Citizen Developers are introducing in the organization

– …

Summary – what value does it bring?

As society has advanced including more roads, transportation, the internet, communities and more, this has resulted in increasing compliance and control requirements with more police work needing to be done. This is where volunteer police support communities were generated, and nowadays many police departments cannot carry out their daily work with no police volunteer community support.

It is now the same with the business and operational aspects – as the business climate becomes more and more dynamic, digital and competitive, the traditional IT teams and tools are struggling to keep up with the pace and need for volunteer IT support, that is Citizen Developers

Another way to look at it, like climate change, more charismatic users and LOB managers have the options to BOS (Buy Own Services), increasing the risk of shadow IT. Better to leverage this climate, delegate with proper governance and speed up on the digital path.

Why is a Citizen Developer Good for Your Company and Its Future?

Studies have shown that citizen developers tend to differ greatly from their counterparts in a number of ways. Developers in this group routinely come up with new and unique ways to meet their needs as opposed to relying on the company’s IT department to offer a one-size-fits-all solution. In many cases, the citizen developer will even choose to use their own applications and devices to come up with a solution to an existing problem at the workplace.


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