Citizen Development in Project Management – Definition, benefits, and steps to take

Did you know that 86% of IT decision-makers say that the biggest challenge they face on the road to digitally transforming their business is too few software developers? 

Even though so-called low-code/no-code (LCNC) platforms made software development easier, companies have been slow to embrace the opportunity. The era in which citizen developers create new rules and organizations incorporate LCNC into their technology stack is begining to take shape.

What exactly is citizen development?

Citizen development is a business process that encourages non-IT-trained employees to become software developers, using IT-sanctioned LCNC platforms to create business applications.

In his 2017 article in Forbes, Jason Bloomberg captures the essence of it:

“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…”

A market research survey, conducted by FTI Consulting, also coraborates the claim. It included 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 to enable it in the near future.

What seems to be the problem?

From everything mentioned, Citizen Development sounds like a perfect solution, right? 

However, relatively few organizations actually decided to pursue and fully accept the citizen development strategy, empowering everyone within the project team to turn their ideas into apps. The reason for this is the fact that there are no standards, best practices, methodology, training, and certification that would give companies all the confidence they need in order to establish and scale citizen development.

Also, the IT department is often not too happy about these new changes taking place in their organization. 

With the adoption of citizen development, a situation where any kind of application can be created while ignoring already established protocols and standards is possible. And in the end, if this new app – God forbid – fails, who will rush in to fix it? The IT, of course. Hence their not-so-happy stance about this issue.

The complexity of it does not help, either. The enterprise might fall into a significant risk, impacting already existing systems and interfaces that sit behind old working practices. In other words, the IT worries that the citizen revolution can become a free-for-all!

So, what are the gaps that should be bridged in order to successfully implement this type of development?

Here are the 3 things that should be determined right at the start:

  1. Standards for what is expected of Citizen Development and what is not
  2. Guidelines for employees who want to become CD
  3. A format that can be used across various low-code and no-code vendors, allowing people to share these newly-made applications

We should not let out of sight the fact that these powerful applications must grow and adapt according to the needs of a business.

Pros and Cons

As with everything, there are pros and cons to Citizen Development. While this is a general list, it’s advisable that you create one with your team in mind. You can start from the points listed below and branch out to more specific things you know can be relevant for you. All these should then be weighed before deciding to jump right in.


  • It reduces the overload on IT departments. 

With all this new technology implementation in business, every IT department faces difficult and mounting issues to resolve. When we add constant advancements and the regular need for troubleshooting existing apps – it is clear how cluttered this department is. But, with LCNC, citizen development platforms allow IT team members to handle other work. They indeed can monitor the risks and benefits of this approach, allowing necessary integrations and permissions required, but it can’t be compared with the amount of work they are usually overwhelmed with. 

  • It is very cost-effective. 

What CD does is create a bigger pool of employees that can share their resources and development tools. Even though this will be disliked among the IT team members – it does reduce the need for true IT professionals. It reduces related costs while increasing the technical understanding of everyone in the citizen developer community.

  • Citizen development raises productivity and efficiency.

This approach turns the focus on collaboration itself while speeding up efficiency and productivity improvements. LCNC platforms use existing code to speed the creation of apps, easing the process where users make changes as the company evolves.

We can add to this list many other things such as addressing the shortage of skilled developers, breaking down silos, meeting the growing need for apps, etc…

However, not everything with the CD approach is positive.


  • Dynamic technology requires regular updates

All applications and programs require constant updates and in order to keep up with all these changes. This means that consistent training and retraining of CD staff is a must. A problem might arise when an employee that created a certain application decides to leave the organization. With no one to focus on the developed application, it’s questionable what will happen down the road.

  • A somewhat uncertain quality

If an IT professional is not included to oversee the process, a lower-quality product can be expected. Regardless of the fact that independence is the keyword for this approach, a professional final touch is often required. From development to testing to the final product and its security, it’s the only way to ensure an application’s quality and functionality.

  • The complexity behind establishing a secure and safe governance structure.

A particular and well-structured framework that complies with general rules and guidelines from the IT department is even more than important in the case of citizen development.  By incorporating best practices that are uniformly available across the company – a guide for safe and secure development is provided. It is of the utmost importance to be able to protect the company from threats such as software breaches or hackers.

Of course, this list can go on and on too. We can add things like risk threats, lower user experience, etc…

Overall, there are pros and cons to both traditional and Citizen Developer methods. As before any decision or a change, all points should be considered. To help you with the decision, we are listing some of the benefits that this approach has for your team.

Benefits of having Citizen Developers on your project team

First of all, it allows innovation and scalability across all departments. When a company establishes a structure, it can also grant the ability to create business applications to business users, empowering employees to use the low-code, no-code applications and hence, allowing for much-needed mobilization and scalability.

By using the power of citizen developers, organizations are allowing change-makers to emerge. Plus, it allows vertical and horizontal creation and integration of innovation as the change-maker’s job is not only to identify and filter ideas but to also innovate and experiment. 

And, finally, the CD approach transforms the company itself, preparing it for the new digital age – by making its operating model optimized for speed, agility, innovation, and creativity!

Important steps to implement CD

First, start by fostering the needed skills. Be open and willing to think differently. Value creativity and innovation. Collaborate and focus on change management. 

Don’t forget that bringing citizen development into an organization is a massive step culture change-wise. Leaders should make sure that every employee understands why citizen development is necessary. To help the process, identify individuals comfortable with change and willing to thrive in the citizen development movement within your company.

If you are a citizen development newbie, start by developing pilot programs that allow you to test citizen development. This is how you will gather important lessons on what works and what doesn’t.

And, be sure, it WILL work to benefit in the end. After all, time flies and it doesn’t look back. 

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