Many organizations have launched a citizen development initiative within their companies. A solid change management plan can help citizen developers succeed and ensure a solid foundation to build on their success.
More than a decade ago, Mark Zuckerberg wrote a letter to potential investors outlining core values, one of which was “move fast.” The letter stated, “We have a saying: ‘Move fast and break things.’ The idea is that if you never break anything, you’re probably not moving fast enough.”
In a modern technology landscape, businesses must evolve quickly. The need for rapid development and continuous improvement, along with cloud technologies and artificial intelligence all spurred citizen development. As companies introduced low-code and no-code tools, such as Microsoft‘s Power Platform Copilot, citizen developers became the solution for all innovative businesses who wanted to stay ahead of the competition.
But digital transformation doesn’t just happen organically. It requires a solid change management strategy and adoption. In this blog, we outline citizen development and change management best practices that can provide a systematic approach to deployment and ease the concerns of your team — which will ultimately increase your likelihood of success.
The Basics of Citizen Development
First, a quick recap – what is citizen development? Simply put, it’s a platform that allows users (citizen developers) to automate tasks, workflows and processes using low- or no-code, often drag-and-drop development tools.
Citizen developers, then, are non-professional software developers who use low- or no-code platforms to create applications. These incredibly powerful yet relatively simple-to-use tools put work automation into the hands of the average business user.
Tools such as Microsoft’s Power Automate, part of the Power Platform suite, and Microsoft 365 Copilot, which combines artificial intelligence with your organizational data, allow business users to automate repetitive, manual tasks and increase organizational productivity. Even if they reach across multiple systems and processes, these tools enable people to focus on more meaningful, rewarding work.
So how can you harness the power of your team, obtain high levels of engagement and adoption, and get true business value from these tools? Below are the top 10 change management best practices we’ve learned from successfully deploying these tools for our clients.
Change Management for Citizen Development
1. Ensure you have visible and engaged executive sponsorship.
Both the business and IT sides of your company need to know you view citizen development as a priority, and that you support the effort needed to make it successful. People also should understand your IT organization is behind them, and you or IT won’t brand their efforts as “going rogue.”
2. Be clear about your goals.
When you’re armed with answers, it makes it easier to communicate your purpose to your team in a way that engages both hearts and minds.
- Why are you deploying citizen development?
- What do you want to get from it?
- How does it align with your business strategy and goals?
Transparency about your strategy and goals also informs your metrics strategy and ensures the application of the tools aligns with your purpose.
One important note is to make sure you don’t only focus on the IT solution. Though citizen developers should not tackle problems that affect your most strategic, critical business applications, such as your ERP, they will help in high-impact areas that touch employees every day. Communicate that value to build buy-in and identify potential pilots.
3. Assess your business environment.
If your team is worn out, stressed, and has change coming at them from multiple angles, then they will likely, passively support your citizen development initiative at best, and you will have poor adoption. Ask these questions to help determine if your organization is ready for a change initiative:
- How successful have your prior projects been?
- If asked, would people find outcomes from previous projects favorable?
- How does your organization deal with change?
- How much change is happening right now?
Don’t forget to look at IT and assess whether your team is willing to deploy citizen developer tools and place ownership outside of IT.
4. Ensure you have effective governance in place.
Governance is a critical element for any change management project. Establishing standards, structures and security before you start will set the scene for success and make it easier to manage your citizen development framework down the road.
We’ve outlined governance from an AI perspective, but many of the best practices remain the same:
- Establish a committee: Ensure you have members from all key stakeholder groups at the outset and that every member understands their part in the committee.
- Define policies and procedures: Don’t leave people guessing about their project. Research best practices, develop custom guidelines and ensure everyone understands not only the policies but how to find answers to questions as they arise.
- Make sure there is a decision-making process: Make sure there’s a citizen developer tool selection process, a strategy that outlines goals to ensure you funnel budget and investments appropriately, and implementation oversight.
- Assess and review applications and tools: Create and deploy a plan that outlines how you want to audit and assess the effectiveness of your citizen development tools. Monitor tool’s performance and ensure you’re maintaining security and other risks.
5. Keep the lines of communication open with your team.
Use both formal and informal communication channels to prepare your team and keep them informed about your citizen development strategy and progress. Answer the following questions, and be open to answering more in-depth questions as they arise.
- Why are citizen development tools important? (Hint: the goal you defined in step two will help you paint this picture).
- Why should people care?
- How will they be involved?
- Where can they get help?
You should outline the answer to each of these questions in your overall strategy and goals. It’s important not to overlook open and honest communication. Poor or insufficient communication can lead to confusion and disillusionment.
A good rule of thumb: Whatever your impression related to how much communication is necessary — double it. This applies whether it’s a small pilot team, a department or the whole enterprise.
6. Understand the impacts.
Understand that deploying automation tools has the potential to change business processes and tasks significantly. People often have to retool or at least do things differently when a company automates repetitive, manual tasks.
When you’re open about this and explain the impacts, it can ease concerns that “robots are going to replace my job.”
7. Train your team.
Take the time to educate your team on the tools and how to use them. This should follow two paths:
- Show people what is possible: Many citizen development tools will be new. Take the time to show your team what the tools can do to help them conceptualize how to use them and build their desire to participate. Piloting the tools in key business areas can be a great help here. It allows you to try it on for size while providing practical examples people can point to within your business.
- Teach people how to use the tools: This step may seem obvious, but it’s critical to success. You cannot simply roll out a citizen development project and expect it to work. Users must understand how to use the tools and where the boundaries lie. Training should increase as knowledge does. Once people have mastered the basics, they will be ready to absorb more information and take it to the next level.
8. Gear up your support channels.
Both IT and your expert citizen developer team play an important role in supporting your deployment. Many organizations start to wind down their user support when they deploy. After all, the tools are now live, right? It’s especially tempting to think along these lines with self-service, learn-as-you-go tools like citizen developer platforms.
However, this is the most crucial time for your users. How you perform now will impact whether your deployment succeeds. This is when true learning and engagement begin.
User groups can be a great tool here because they promote learning and can provide you with an excellent feedback loop to hear how things are going.
9. Use broad metrics to measure your outcomes.
Metrics are a component of any project. Citizen development project data should include utilization, proficiency and business impact. Solid metrics allow you to measure true value and provide important examples in your ongoing communications campaign so you can continue building momentum.
10. Invite your citizen developers to contribute in charting the course.
Ask your team to participate in your center of excellence to help shape the strategy for your future enhancements. Not only does this build ownership and engagement, it helps build excitement for and keep momentum. It is called “citizen” development, after all.
A solid change management plan is the key to ensuring success with your citizen development program. It’s not simply about adopting a platform. It’s also about everything those platforms touch, from the day-to-day work employees are accustomed to doing to relationships between IT and business people.
Get ahead of the game by putting a plan in place first, and if you have already started your initiative, monitor it closely for signs of stress. Keep in mind that one (of many) side benefits of citizen development is bridging the IT and non-IT divide, so everyone can play a part in growing your business and contribute to its success.