Citizen Development – Avoiding the Landmines

By 2024, Forrester forecasts a global developer deficit of 500,000 resources[1].  IT departments are scrambling to meet increasing demands from business users and often even simple solutions are beyond their capacity to design, test and deploy.

Enter Citizen Developers: non-technical people who are familiar enough with business processes and problems to build applications to solve them without burdening IT. They use no-code/low-code platforms that provide a secure environment for business users to develop solutions without breaking anything major.

This all sounds great, but some common issues arise when non-technical users design and build apps, many of which can be avoided with the right planning and processes.

Here are our top 5 landmines and how to avoid them:

1. Straight to solution mode

It’s excellent that you have a proactive team member who wants to solve all the problems, but if they lack experience in solution development, leaping straight in to building the solution is a mistake. Get help first. Explain your problem and your solution ideas and get an experienced developer to help you structure an efficient solution. By all means, learn to build it yourself but having a clear architecture up front means your app will be more effective, more user-friendly and easier to maintain.

2. Ignoring basic development principles

Even with a no-code framework like Power Automate, a citizen developer still needs some knowledge of software design principles. For example the DRY principle (don’t repeat yourself) which means reducing repetitions and making a modular solution to avoid redundancy. Not understanding coding basics can result in a complex and unsustainable piece of software. It will be difficult to manage and if the logic changes, the code needs to change in multiple places. Organisations with keen citizen developers should invest in some basic training to cover off this knowledge in advance.

3. Ineffective Governance

Proliferation of fast-moving, low/no code development increases risks around maintaining effective security, integration, compliance and privacy. It’s not easy to prevent people from breaking things without stifling creativity. Selecting a platform that reduces compliance risk and enables audits will help, as will these rules:

  • Update existing governance documentation to make it easy for non-technical people to understand and follow.
  • Maintain IT oversight of low-code projects and ensure their resource requirements are justified by business benefit
  • All data stored in one place. Citizen developers shall not create databases.
  • Restrict access to sensitive data.

4. Lack of change management

Just because a solution has been developed outside of the usual project framework doesn’t mean all of the regular implementation processes can be ignored. A new app or interface changes the way people work – and not everyone impacted will be as tech-savvy as the citizen developer who created the solution. A mandatory project checklist can ensure that team input is sought when designing the solution and training and communication is completed as part of the deployment process.

5. No man is an island

Citizen development can be lonely! You aren’t part of IT and your colleagues are likely unable to commiserate with code challenges or understand bug fix triumphs… not to mention help with troubleshooting. Create a forum for your citizen developers to encourage connection, assistance and recognition plus a channel within IT or externally to a support troubleshooting.

41% of employees outside of IT are now involved in either building or customizing technology solutions for their organisation.


The Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated the trend to low-code platforms and your next significant business application could be thanks to a citizen developer. With proper basics training and strong governance guardrails, low/no-code development holds huge potential for forward thinking organisations.


[1] (How To Harness Citizen Developers To Expand Your AD&D Capacity, Forrester Research, Inc., April 19, 2017)