Bridging the Governance Gap: How to Safely Realize the Potential of Citizen Development20 Nov 2020
Image by Alex Azabache on Unsplash
About five years ago I became acquainted with a relatively new trend in software development: no-code/low-code (LCNC)—the ability to build and launch software applications without any coding experience. LCNC platforms enable drag-and-drop, pre-packaged widgets and intuitive visual modeling. The idea immediately caught my attention.
The promise of lightning-fast development times with smaller teams—and orders of magnitude smaller budgets—seemed to kick dust in the face of the unanimously accepted constraints affecting every project: time, cost, scope, and quality.
Indeed, in his 2017 article in Forbes, Jason Bloomberg captures the essence of this paradigm shift—“take a traditional enterprise app that might require, say, six months, a dozen people, and two million dollars to build and deploy, and reduce those figures to two weeks, three people, and fifty thousand dollars—and end up with a faster, higher quality, more flexible app to boot…”
Compelling, isn’t it? And so, I embarked on my journey of discovery into LCNC application development platforms. Over the next few years, I worked with numerous multi-national companies, all expressing a deep desire to be more innovative, agile, responsive, and productive, yet all struggling to achieve this in a meaningful way. I worked with senior leaders who were intent on making a difference and together we conducted proof-of-concepts.
In every case the outcome was nothing short of jaw-dropping. As an example, two individuals, after only a couple of days of training to familiarize themselves with the underlying LCNC platform, built applications orders of magnitude faster than dedicated teams of professional developers employing traditional hand-coding methods. In every case, the baseline development effort was substantially higher than what was demonstrated using an LCNC platform.
It was clear to everyone that these LCNC platforms were powerful accelerators for the existing IT department. It was also becoming increasingly apparent that some LCNC platforms were so intuitive that even those without IT backgrounds were able to realize similar constraint-breaking outcomes. It was at this point that the penny truly dropped. The democratization of software development is here.
You would think, given this prelude, that organizations around the world would be jumping at the opportunity to incorporate LCNC into their technology stack.
A recent market research survey conducted by FTI Consulting suggests that this is indeed the case; FTI surveyed nearly 800 IT decision-makers from across the globe and 91 percent responded that their organizations are either using an LCNC platform or are looking at adopting the capability in the near future.
However, FTI found that relatively few organizations have decided to pursue a citizen development strategy and empower everyone in the organization to turn their ideas into apps. Why is this?
Let’s return to the early proof-of-concepts we conducted. From a project perspective, all were successful. They demonstrated superior numbers across the board—faster, cheaper, smaller team sizes and rapid turn-around of changes and enhancements.
In a number of cases, the organizations ended up adopting an LCNC solution off the back of these proof-of-concepts but kept these within the domain of (and for the sole use by) the IT department.
Despite all the will in the world, we struggled to make progress on the big prize: citizen development. I saw all of the obstacles you might expect—whether it was the IT department expressing apprehension that their role was being marginalized to the mild panic at the thought of “giving the keys” to the business, not to mention all the risk and compliance issues that would manifest as a result of putting such a powerful tool in the hands of the “untrained.”
CP Gurnani, the CEO of Tech Mahindra, has summed it up succinctly: “Just because we build a road, it doesn’t mean people aren’t going to speed, or drive safely on it.”
The same logic applies to citizen development. Just because there is an LCNC platform (the road), and people know how to use it (they have a car), it doesn’t mean they know how to build safe, compliant, scalable applications (they speed, or drive, dangerously).
In this road analogy, there needs to be rigorous training, allowing only those who pass their tests and obtain a license to use the road. Herein was the gap that was preventing citizen development from being fully accepted and harnessed in organizations. There were no standards, best practices, methodology, training, and certifications to give organizations the confidence to establish and scale citizen development.
Fast forward to today.
On August 25, the Project Management Institute (PMI) announced that it was working with thought leaders, academics, platform vendors, titans of industry, and trail-blazing citizen developers to build a suite of offerings to help organizations adopt and scale citizen development in a concerted, measured approach.
The governance gap is finally being addressed and I couldn’t be more excited! In the meantime, if you haven’t already, head over to Citizen Developer to see what PMI has been up to. The next chapter of citizen development is being written right now.