Project Management

Ask PMI Anything: As an individual, how can I mitigate risk with Citizen Developer?

19 Aug 2021
Sam Sibley
We’ve all heard the buzz: citizen development is a potential game-changer for how work gets done. But as with any innovation, it’s important to assess the risks as well as the benefits. Sam Sibley offers clear-eyed advice for project professionals wanting to look beyond the buzz and take risks off the table.

Image by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

Like many new practices, citizen development has generated a fair amount of “buzz.” Using intuitive low-code/no-code tools (LCNC), citizen development promises to make application and software development significantly faster and less costly. This, in turn, should drive productivity and allow companies to bring products and services to market faster than ever before.

Thinking beyond the buzz, however, many project professionals are now asking about potential risks associated with citizen development. We’ve all heard about the dangers of “shadow IT” and of IT giving away “the keys of the kingdom.”

Such stories are greatly exaggerated, of course, but they point to an important reality: citizen development doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and project professionals need to make sure their use of LCNC tools lies well within an organization’s technology guardrails.

The risks of straying beyond these guardrails are very real. Here are just some of the issues we need to be mindful of:

  • Security: Will the application create a security risk in terms of potential breaches of confidentially, data loss or uncontrolled user access?
  • Operational IT: How easily can the application be managed, maintained and used within the organization’s IT standards?
  • IT Architecture: Will the app negatively affect other IT systems or require extensive integration?
  • Regulatory: Does the application comply with relevant industry standards and regulatory/legal requirements?
  • Reputational: Will use of the application negatively affect the organization’s reputation?
  • Financial: Will the application affect businesses processes or negatively impact the organization’s revenues or costs?

It is exactly these kinds of governance issues that led PMI to develop a suite of platform-agnostic educational offerings to help individuals and organizations adopt and scale citizen development in a responsible way. Among the offerings are centralized resources that outline best practices for implementing citizen development at scale, including the recently released Practitioner e-course—a follow-up to the Foundations e-course that provides the tools and methodologies to properly plan and lead projects utilizing LCNC platforms. For those looking to act as a citizen development leader within their organization, we also have recently released our Business Architect micro-credential, which guides citizen development leaders on how to manage the introduction, scaling, and governance process of citizen development within an organization.

Our suite is designed to fill a critical gap that exists in many organizations: the lack of clear standards and guidelines for citizen developers to follow in deploying LCNC tools. PMI hopes to fill this gap as a way of turbo-charging the citizen development marketplace and giving project professionals and first-time changemakers a valuable tool for turning ideas into reality.

That said, for project professionals thinking about embarking on a citizen development initiative, getting started can be a challenge. Here are some critical things to know:

  • Know your organization’s LCNC framework. Before diving into the world of citizen development, check with your IT team to see if a framework for LCNC projects exists. Assuming it does, you will want to spend time familiarizing yourself with its requirements and clarifying any open questions. If your IT team doesn’t have an LCNC framework, however, you will need to meet with IT to discuss your plans and agree on an ad hoc arrangement to cover your work. You can also encourage them to check out the citizen development resources on as a starting point for developing a framework.
  • Know your project’s goals. It’s important that you have a clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve with your citizen development effort. In some cases, the goal is straightforward, e.g., to develop an app to automate a particular process. If the goal is less well-defined—say, to “reduce costs” or “cut the time” it takes to perform a certain function, you may need to think the challenge through with your team. Using brainstorming techniques or other forms of ideation, such as a hackathon, decide on a specific objective for your LCNC application. Once you understand what you want the app to do, you can determine if the project is something that the IT team should take on or if you, as a citizen developer, can lead it. PMI has tools and resources available to help you determine the suitability of a project for an LCNC platform.
  • Know your personal limits. While LCNC platforms are easy to pick up, they aren’t necessarily easy to master. As you begin to customize your tools for the project, it’s important to know when you should loop in the IT team to help you or to confirm that you’re operating within governance guidelines. Some projects require more IT assistance than others based on their complexity and your level of experience. PMI has resources that help you assess project complexity, including a technical complexities assessment.

Working through these issues requires time and effort, but it can help ensure your citizen development effort gets off to a good start and achieves the objectives you’ve set for it. It will also serve to reassure your IT team and minimize any risks that might affect your organization or potentially derail your initiative. And, as you and your organization gain experience in citizen development, you will be acquiring a valuable new project management tool that can change the way you operate. We believe it’s well worth the effort to see what all the buzz is about.

Sam Sibley Sam Sibley