The Impact of Citizen Development According to Early Adopters

I could start by telling you that innovation is at an all-time high, how exponential growth is happening now, and that you should definitely digitally transform just to keep up. But, that has all been said and done. So, let’s just get pragmatic: We have a (growing) shortage of developers, and it’s a major problem.

But, as we learned in this article from innovation rockstars Foryard and Univé, we need problems so we can build effective solutions. As it turns out citizen development is the perfect solution for the developers' problem. There, I said it. I know, talk is cheap and you want to see the solution in action. Good, because we love action and there was plenty of it during Betty Blocks on Stage.

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Here are 5 things we learned from the early adopters of citizen development who spoke that day:

1. Citizen developers are on a mission

Oddly enough, traditional developers sometimes struggle with no-code platforms. As citizen development guru Bouwe Koopal puts it, “Developers are used to climbing steep mountains and look for the hard challenge, but citizen development is an easy stroll on the beach and that just doesn’t align with the developers’ mindset.”

So, what are the traits that make a great citizen developer? If you ask the experts, they all agree. Citizen developers are:

  • Adventurous

  • Pragmatic

  • Creative and innovative

  • Tech-savvy

  • Problem owners who know exactly what solution they want

  • True ‘do-it-yourself’ types

In short, citizen developers are on a mission, know what they need to achieve it, and want to have control of those needs. Why wait on a development team to build something that isn’t really what you need, when you can take matters in your own hands and keep a steady pace in your journey? This mindset opens many new doors, and behind one of those doors is self-reliance and control.

2. Self-reliance and control open doors

Getting someone from zero to hero in citizen development takes around 2 days. That’s a small investment considering that it leads to a wide range of new opportunities. One of the biggest results is self-reliance: people and organizations gain control of their own processes. While this is great news for organizations, it’s also a business opportunity for people paying attention.

Take logistics consultants Bricklog for example. They know the problems of the logistics market in and out and want to put their clientele in charge of their own future. How? By training their employees to become citizen developers. Now they don’t just offer a solution, they make their clientele part of the solution. Give a man a fish, he can eat for a day; teach him how to fish... well, you know how the story goes.

With their academy, they train students as young as 15 to become citizen developers. As it turns out, 15-year-old gamers enjoy the citizen development route and even excel in it. Also, it opens the door for employees in logistics. People working a linear career now have opportunities to learn new skills and create new opportunities. If you ask Hubert Benneker from Bricklog, this movement can disrupt the entire logistics world.

Innovation happens in small corners and can quickly gain traction, changing the way things work in logistics. Just in time, if you ask Hubert. According to him, “30% of trucks you see on the roads are empty, and that’s a bad situation that needs to change fast. Citizen development might just be the answer logistics needs so badly.”

3. Adopt a new way of thinking

As a citizen developer, you have to adopt a new way of thinking. It isn’t just a one-time affair. Innovation is a constant iterative cycle and your mind should work the same way. You have to get in the habit of ’ideate, build, test, repeat’. Now sing it with me!

However, with the power of citizen development in your hands, you can’t wander off while singing Fatboy Slim lyrics. There are some pitfalls you want to avoid at all costs:

  • Avoid hobby-ism: Citizen development is fun, but stay the course;

  • Don’t sit on your own island: Keep communicating with other stakeholders;

  • Avoid shadow-IT: Again communicate, so your application doesn’t end up in a dark corner of your organization's intranet;

  • Don’t travel alone: Get external knowledge;

  • Avoid perfectionism: Realize your application has an expiration date.

With everything packed and ready to embark on your journey, make sure you have a destination. Again, don’t build solutions for problems that don’t exist and design for re-use. It makes no sense to build a new foundation every single time you want to build an application. Reinventing the wheel might be fun, but it’s simply a waste of time.

4. Humans over technology

Sjoerd Rombout from Gasunie is one of the early adopters of the citizen development movement. By deploying it in his organization, which finds itself in a tough spot due to decreasing demand for gas, Sjoerd can innovate fast by implementing solutions from the business side. Their goal is to become a fully paperless and digital organization and they are making great moves to reach that goal.

Gasunie made the clear choice to park no-code and citizen development with their IT department. By doing this they can guarantee continuity with the rest of their IT efforts and have an extensive knowledge base. Citizen developers are able to create new applications, but all under the supervision of the IT department.

Sjoerd and his team build complex applications on the Betty Blocks platform. In short sprints, they build new functionalities within the organization. According to Sjoerd, this requires a different way of thinking: “Think Scrum plus Agile plus working together on a human level, and together with the problem owner you will get exactly what you want. That gets me excited.”

A simple platform located in one central place lets magic happen at Gasunie. They are able to work with multiple teams on different projects. They run a smooth and stable operation and everything functions well. “We used to spend days updating our platform, but now this is done with a single click on the Betty Blocks platform.”

However, it’s not all fun and games for Sjoerd. Gasunie has a hard time finding citizen developers to join the team. As expected, the IT department doesn’t want to spend their time with the no-code platform. This is where Hubert’s solution for Bricklog comes in again: “You have to be able to recognize the type of person fit for citizen development in your team. One thing is sure, you won’t find him in the development department, but I can assure you that if you know what to look for you will find that diamond in your organization.”

5. Work smarter, not harder

With the Bricklog Academy, Hubert has a breeding ground for citizen development and a keen eye for talent. According to Hubert, every organization should have citizen developers in their teams. In logistics, the standard is hard work. But Hubert sees many opportunities to work smarter, not harder. Assumptions and estimates are lethal for organizations, especially in logistics. They are based on old habits that simply don’t work anymore.

By using data and new applications that can be implemented quickly, Hubert gives his clients the opportunity to do smart work. By empowering citizen developers in the field of logistics, organizations adopt a paradigm shift and see the added value of data and applications. The tough logistics sector becomes more innovative and interesting for new talent.

Ready to pack your bags?

As Bouwe Koopal puts it, citizen development is like an easy stroll on the beach. It makes application development and moving to the cloud fun again, and isn’t life all about fun? Before you pack your bags and head off to the beach, make sure you know exactly what your goal is. Citizen development can be just the thing that will take your entire business to the next level, or it’s just a fun tool to play around with. It all depends on you.

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