How to Know if a Project is Right for Citizen Development

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By Amber Wise, Low-Code/No-Code Business Analyst 

Citizen development, which involves less technical professionals in app creation, empowers staff, fosters innovation, and bridges demand and developer gaps. But how can an organization determine whether a project is appropriate for citizen development? Let’s examine the criteria and explore ways to assess whether your project is a good fit.

Project Complexity 

One of the most pivotal elements to consider when determining the suitability of a project for citizen development is its complexity. Here are some factors to keep in mind:

Simple Projects for Basic Functionality: Citizen development excels with straightforward projects achievable via low-code or no-code platforms. Without professional developers, business users or subject matter experts can rapidly craft customized solutions like data collection forms, basic workflow automations, or simple reporting tools.

Minimal Integration with Existing Systems: Citizen development excels when projects require minimal integration, as low-code platforms simplify connections with common business tools. However, complex integrations may demand professional developers to ensure data security, compliance, and robust system connections, discussed further on.

Complex Algorithms and Data Manipulation: Projects requiring complex algorithms or intricate data manipulation might not suit citizen development. Although some low-code platforms offer advanced features, they may have limitations when applied to highly complex tasks. Professional developers with a deeper understanding of algorithms and data manipulation can optimize performance and ensure accuracy in these scenarios.

Hybrid Approach with IT Involvement: A blend of citizen developers and IT professionals often proves most effective. IT experts provide guidance, security assessments, and governance, aligning solutions with IT strategy and organizational standards while capitalizing on business users’ domain expertise.

Resource Availability 

Resource availability profoundly influences the choice between citizen and professional technical development in any project, requiring a thorough assessment of skills and resources. Consider the following:

Cost-Effectiveness: Citizen development can be cost-effective. By capitalizing on the existing talent pool within the organization and identifying employees with programming skills or a strong aptitude for technology, organizations can empower and encourage individuals to participate in the development process. This eliminates some of the burden on developers and presents a budget-friendly solution.

Rapid Development and Iteration: Citizen developers can facilitate rapid development and iteration cycles with the right low-code/no-code (LCNC) tools and minimal training. Creating prototypes or Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) becomes more accessible, allowing citizen developers to test ideas quickly and gather valuable feedback. This promotes a culture of innovation and continuous improvement within the organization. However, a balance between citizen and professional developers is crucial for time-sensitive projects with complex technical needs.

Skill Gaps: While advantageous, relying entirely on citizen development may not work when the organization lacks tech-savvy individuals or the project’s complexity exceeds the subject matter experts’ capabilities. In these cases, involving specialized professional developers becomes essential.

Training Requirements: Although LCNC tools enhance accessibility, training might be necessary to ensure optimal utilization and adherence to industry best practices in application development. Adequate time and resources must be allocated for training to maximize the benefits of citizen development.

Scalability and Security: For projects involving intricate architectures, extensive integrations, robust security requirements, or scalability concerns, professional developers become indispensable. Their expertise ensures that such complex projects are handled with precision and efficacy, leading to successful outcomes that meet organizational expectations and requirements.

More on Security and Compliance 

Security and compliance are paramount in any development project, especially when dealing with sensitive data, customer information, or strict regulatory requirements. While citizen developers can create applications within predefined guidelines, they may not have the specialized knowledge and experience to address these critical concerns effectively. Take into account the following:

Handling Sensitive Data: Professional developers with security expertise and best practices understand the importance of handling sensitive data. They can implement robust encryption methods, access controls, and secure data storage to safeguard sensitive information from unauthorized access or breaches.

Ensuring Robust Security Measures: Professional developers are well-versed in identifying and mitigating security vulnerabilities and threats. They can conduct thorough security assessments, penetration testing, and code reviews to identify potential weaknesses in the application and rectify them before deployment.

Adherence to Compliance Standards: Certain projects are subject to strict regulatory requirements. Professional developers have experience working with compliance standards and can ensure the application meets all the requirements, reducing the risk of legal or financial penalties.

Data Privacy and Consent: Professional developers understand the importance of privacy and user consent. They can implement mechanisms for obtaining user consent while complying with privacy laws that ensure the application operates ethically and legally.

Long-Term Maintenance and Support 

Long-term maintenance and support are essential to informed decision making. When assessing your project, consider these differences between citizen and professional development:

Maintenance: Citizen developers can excel in building straightforward and lightweight applications that don’t require frequent updates or maintenance. These applications might serve smaller tasks or internal processes and have minimal impact on overall business operations. More complex applications, especially those critical to the business or involving numerous integrations, often demand continuous updates and bug fixes. Professional developers are better equipped to handle the complexity and ensure the stability of such applications over time.

Support for Business Continuity: Professional developers can provide reliable support, reducing the risk of downtime and ensuring continuous business operations. They can promptly address issues, perform necessary upgrades, and update the application with the latest technologies and security measures.

Scalability and Performance: As applications grow and users expand, scalability and performance become crucial factors. Professional developers have the experience to design and implement solutions that can handle increased user loads and maintain optimal performance as the application evolves.

Application Evaluation: Download the Assessment  

PMI’s citizen development framework offers a foundation for establishing project suitability. The application evaluation attached as a download here builds upon this framework by incorporating additional categories. This comprehensive assessment is designed to assist you in gauging whether citizen development aligns with the needs of your project while acknowledging the inspiration drawn from PMI’s framework. assessment is designed to assist you in gauging whether Citizen Development aligns with the needs of your project while acknowledging the inspiration drawn from PMI’s framework.

Citizen development is a potent approach for innovation, employee empowerment, and project acceleration. But before you launch your project and include citizen developers, be sure to assess. Striking the right balance between citizen and professional developers, promoting collaboration, and using the provided application assessment will guide organizations toward operational success.