The citizen development movement is here to stay, but organizations must include usability and design in their efforts to ensure adoption and maximize business-led IT solutions.
Modern IT leaders understand that embracing citizen development will foster better relationships with business units and put less strain, cost and scope on their internal teams to help truly drive business value.
Additionally, these leaders recognize their role is to provide the business with appropriate tools sanctioned by IT and fit within their technology strategies.
What not enough business and IT leaders recognize, however, is that while tools drive the enabling of business-led IT initiatives, citizen developers still need skills, aptitudes and capabilities that are often overlooked. These skills, aptitudes and capabilities belong to the realm of digital design practices and are imperative in today’s business environments to ensure employees, customers, partners and vendors adopt the solutions citizen developers create.
The challenge is that organizations are deploying tools and teams without the rigor of product design expertise. They are producing to produce, but without the safeguards of usability and visual design to help achieve the purpose and goal of the software they are creating.
Why Use Design in Citizen Development
Design, as we define it at Centric, is the visualization of intelligence. Without the proper process, techniques, methods and inputs design experts bring to the table, the solutions often fail and require immense amounts of refactoring. While refactoring is much simpler with the low-code/no-code solutions that Microsoft Power Platform, Salesforce, Outsystems, Mendix and other tools provide, the results of citizen developers’ work are still digital products and solutions. That means they should be somewhat derived by designers who are formally trained and skilled in turning user needs into useful, meaningful solutions.
Before we talk about what organizations should consider doing with their citizen development programs to ensure design inclusion, let’s address the tooling side of the equation and what capabilities they do—and do not—offer.
Some of the pros:
- Most of the tools provide a great way to create extensive user flows that satisfy the idea of the customer, employee, partner or vendor journey. These tools allow citizen developers to stitch journeys together easily to illustrate the entire end-to-end process.
- Most tools also provide integrated or easily integrated data sets citizen developers can use to create prototypes and proof of concepts so they can quickly move to state-of-solution potential.
- Finally, many tools allow citizen developers to limit any technical complexities and customizations that would deter integration with other platforms. This is the key to sustainability: Not being tied to a specific platform either on the front or back end. That way, you can change and adopt new systems on either side of the equation relatively simply, compared to more fixed, harder-wired architecture
Some of the cons:
- All the tools are extremely limited when it comes to overall visual and aesthetic design. While the component libraries are enough to create pages and screens the business wants, the idea of what it looks like lags far behind the current state of design for modern digital interfaces.
- While the tools’ component libraries contain a decent amount of configurable assets, they are very basic. They have very few pre-configured solutions rooted in design strategy, making it challenging for non-designers to drag and drop the right components, in the right order, and with the right priority.
- The tools are essentially comprised of building blocks some other software developers created to better enable citizen developers, but they come with no directions. Resources must teach themselves the platforms and become experts either over time or through additional accreditations.
Successful Citizen Development Design
Now that we know a few of the pros and cons from the tool side, let’s return to what citizen developers need to succeed. We firmly believe organizations need to integrate design skills for both user experience and interface design into their citizen developer programs. Design-savvy citizen developers will create products users will adopt faster and use more. These products also require less maintenance in the long run, driving down the value of cost and increasing productivity.
Here is what you need to ensure the success and inclusion of design in your citizen development efforts:
- Research – A process that includes generating insights from users on what they need. You can easily transform users’ needs into experiential architecture for the solution that can guide citizen developers as they start to create the applications.
- Subject Matter Experts – User experience designers who are included in the process and prepared to lead or co-lead insights efforts. These designers should lead the user architecture in regard to user flow, information hierarchy and density, and component and feature prioritization
- Design Strategy – Designs teams that can create a pseudo design strategy for how to enable components in the various tools. These teams will help further guide, educate and control the experiences citizen developers are building so that they can create “reusable” experiences that are shared across applications and solutions. Doing so will make all experiences easier, more relevant and consistent.
- Measurements – Measurements that include behavioral characteristics to further understand how you use the applications and solutions based on the architecture citizen developers have created. This will help with any continuous delivery/continuous deployment (CI/CD) efforts related to your citizen developers’ newly created solutions.
If you stand up DesignOps around the idea of citizen development, you can benefit from faster adoption, more longevity and lower costs of your investments. While attention to design should not prevent you from exploring citizen development, it is essential to the long-term success of your citizen developer program — and it will set you apart from your competitors.