Four key ways

to get buy-in and plan your citizen development program


Citizen development. Decoded.

You can accomplish citizen development in three waves: prepare, pilot, and scale. Making a thorough plan along with gaining leadership and stakeholder buy-in is the key to getting things off the ground. Use this guide to successfully rally your team and your organization around a solid plan that predicts the value of implementing citizen development to reduce backlogs, get to market faster, and increase employee satisfaction.

Citizen development: Your formula for faster app development. 

When your IT team is too busy to help, business leaders may resort to developing solutions on their own. This is called “Shadow IT” and it creates significant risk to the organization. Solutions developed without IT governance generally lack the features of enterprise applications such as security, scalability, and disaster recovery. On the other hand, a healthy demand for solutions shows a spirit of innovation that can be quite valuable to the organization if you have strong governance in place. 


A huge benefit to the citizen developer program is that IT is constantly asked to move quicker. The IT team is continually asked to do more with the same amount of bandwidth or head count, and citizen development can help with that.

Hear Anna's Story

Anna Rodriguez, Solution Principal

Citizen development brings IT and the business together to tackle backlog requests more efficiently. IT is consistently asked to do more with the same number of people and budget. With more resources available, your IT team can focus on large-scale enterprise initiatives while the business units are empowered to build and update solutions they own. Analyst firms also refer to the citizen development program as an avenue for deploying more apps and making the organization more productive, while fostering a closer partnership between IT and revenue producing centers.

Citizen development programs provide a viable outlet for developing low-code solutions that fall outside the realm of funded IT priorities while holding the business to a system of governance that allows technology leaders to sleep better at night.


of IT leaders say that business units are willing and ready to create apps using a low-code approach

Tech savvy and eager to learn: Characteristics of a successful citizen developer. 

Citizen developers already work at your company, they just don’t know it yet. These employees typically are business analysts, system administrators, project managers, and product managers with a knack and deep interest in technology. On a regular basis, they are most likely building out spreadsheet data models, leveraging macros and lookup tables, or administrating apps and systems in their department. In essence, they are already creating or managing apps to solve problems, but without the advanced technological capabilities that a low-code platform can provide. However, it takes the right core skills and a drive to create among many other traits to become a citizen developer. You can learn more about common characteristics of successful citizen developers in the pilot section of this website.

Initiating and adopting a citizen development program is a challenge. So preparing a solid plan is key. Here are four steps to get you started on the right path to transforming how work gets done at your company:


Identify the citizen development potential in your organization.

Growth is a wonderful thing, but IT organizations can struggle to keep up with business demands. These constraints can lead to an uncontrolled sprawl of homegrown employee solutions. 

For example, USAA employees were creating databases on their own that contained critical business info which exposed the company to significant risk. IT was completely unaware of shadow applications drawing off these databases until they received a support call from a panicked employee. It turned out that an Access database used by 400 employees had been accidentally deleted. Following the incident, USAA’s IT team was horrified to discover thousands of shadow applications being used by hundreds of users across the organization. 

Could a similar problem be endemic to your organization? Start by investigating shadow IT activity. Issue surveys to employees across departments and conduct qualitative interviews with their managers in order to understand the purpose, data integrations, and number of users of these apps. This will also provide you with potential citizen developer recruits, since all of them are already employing technology to streamline their everyday activities. Get an idea of how fertile the landscape is and use that as an important part of your pitch to executives. 

Once you have a handle on the unknown, move on to the known by reviewing your current backlog.

Analyze and manage your backlog with three key tools.

In addition to hunting down hidden business apps, look for pent-up demand represented in your current backlog. Evaluate the app requests you received from the business to get a sense of citizen development ideas that can be pursued. Get a sense of what percentage of that backlog could be handled by citizen developers. Think about how much self-paced learning could be involved in order for them to re-skill and learn the new skills to build these apps. How much IT oversight you give them will depend on the structure of your enterprise and the scale, reach,  security requirements, and complexity of each app. For example, simple apps and updates that only require low-code or minimal changes and don’t require much data integration are easy to pick out as prime candidates for citizen development.

Using an analysis tool like the one provided here, score both the impact and feasibility of using citizen developers to take on existing and projected workloads.

Look at your backlog. If you have 100 feature requests and apps in your backlog, find the 10 or 20 you’d be comfortable doing with citizen developers.

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Trenton Cycholl

VP of Business Technology, Citrix Systems

Turn 15 developers into 100. 

Now that you understand how powerful the argument for citizen development is from the demand side, it’s time to figure out how many people at your company can take on low-code development. 

At BMC, David Riggan, Vice President of Solutions Delivery, saw opportunity within the workforce: “From our point of view, we launched a citizen development strategy at BMC because we have latent talent in our organization that can help us be more productive, responsive, and innovative in IT. Unleashing that talent seemed to be the best way to innovate and be productive.”

Can you envision the same at your company? 

This is where the surveys and interviews that were conducted during the Shadow IT discovery can come in handy. Add questions to that survey to determine how much of your company’s current workforce may be good candidates for citizen development training.

Here are a few examples of survey questions that will help you see how your organization measures up:
  • How familiar are you with low-code development solutions like those offered by Salesforce?
  • How would you rate your experience level or education in computer science?
  • How often have you solved a business need with a calculation spreadsheet?
  • How willing would you be to build an app on a low-code platform if you received proper training?
  • Have you ever participated in a hackathon?

Be sure to ask your questions on a Likert scale or as multiple choice so you can generate a clean quantitative report to include in your pitch.

Leaders at BMC also recognized that shadow IT and citizen development are two sides of the same coin. Instead of viewing shadow IT as a problem, they embraced it as an opportunity to leverage a creative and willing workforce. By empowering non-developers to start developing with self-paced e-learning tools like Trailhead and specific governance protocols, they were able to turn a team of 15 developers into “100 quasi-developers."

Here are 11 citizen development success metrics that actually matter. 

What does success look like? How long would it take IT to deploy the application? Will bringing on citizen developers speed up the process?

During the initial planning phase, it’s important to define KPIs that will measure the success of the program. Here are a few examples:

IT Metrics
  1. Backlog: total number of requests reduced from backlog, scored or weighted by priority
  2. Time to value: total time between release and results
  3. Idea to deployment: total time between ideation and release
  4. Dev cycle time: number of applications deployed during different sprints
  5. Developer productivity: task completion efficiency per application and across overall deployed apps to ensure productivity is not being impacted by new citizen development support tasks
  6. Employee satisfaction scores: based on the standard voice of employee surveys
CitDev Metrics
  1. App users and usage: number of users and frequency of use of an application
  2. Apps deployed to production: number of citizen developer apps successfully deployed 
  3. App progressions: total number of versions released across existing apps 
  4. Time to deploy: total hours spent developing app from initial concept to deployment of application
  5. Citizen development satisfaction score: based on citizen developer feedback around individual growth, training, process, and collaboration with IT

In IT, speed is a hot topic. Industry leaders commonly rank various speed-related KPIs near the top of what they strive for. 

Do not forget about the impact that getting apps to production can have on employee satisfaction. Seventy-one percent of employees want their company to provide the same level of service through technology that they expect from consumer products. This presents a huge challenge to IT leaders, 70% of whom claim that employee satisfaction scores are critically or very important KPIs.

How They Did It

Sudheer Sura at BMC sets goals for each app at the time the app is requested, and uses those goals as a way to track success. Did each app achieve the goals it was specifically created to reach? Here is the checklist that Sudheer used: 

  • The app request must come with a clear outline of the use case and what success will look like to the business line requesting it 
  • The app request must describe what measurements will be used to align on goal achievement 
  • The app request must have a plan to look at the data and output, make a comparison, and figure out, “Have they achieved their goals?”
  • An app request is considered successful if it achieves more than 50% of its goals.
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Get support from business and IT. 

Getting buy-in from business leaders and your IT team is key to kicking off a successful citizen development program. Now, that you have several elements of your plan put together, it’s time to get more help. Show business-side leaders how they can achieve more ownership of their projects with the citizen developer program. Find and partner with core allies from the executive team and beyond who are willing to roll up their sleeves and join the cause. 

These four tips are sure to get business leaders on board.

Before you fully bake your vision, find partners across the aisle who will support the pilot program by championing your vision and potentially acting as advisors. It is essential to get approval from the managers of would-be citizen developers as their teams will be the one working on this. Involving these partners early will help you formulate a well-rounded vision, add instant credibility to your proposal, and avoid internal conflict down the road. Help them understand how citizen development will benefit — not detract from — their department and the overall organization:

  1. Citizen development is a voluntary program. It will not affect any team’s everyday responsibilities. 
  2. Citizen development creates happier, more engaged employees by empowering them to solve their own challenges in a secure and supported way.
  3. Solutions built by citizen developers can better address business challenges because they’re built by the people doing the job every day.
  4. Citizen development serves a greater purpose in supporting company innovation — right down to the individual.

For the business, explain how IT isn’t trying to take their efforts away. Instead, IT is trying to help them by providing the tools to make development faster.

Hear Sudheer's Story

Sudheer Sura, IT Director

Above all, it is important to recognize that while volunteers for citizen development will need training, they will not need to learn how to code:

The next generation of cloud platforms, like Salesforce’s high-productivity application platform as a service (aPaaS), gives nontechnical users visual tools to build highly functional business applications — without the need to write thousands of lines of code. People who understand their business’ needs and have a grasp of high-level technology concepts can create apps even if they may not know how to write code and have no formal schooling in the standards and disciplines common to IT professionals.

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How Can IT Empower Citizen Developers?


Low-code platforms that have a trove of well-documented tutorials, courses and open forums like Salesforce Trailhead, are the key enablers of expanding capacity into the general workforce of your organization. It is advisable at this point to schedule a demo with several low-code platform consultants or providers to compare feature sets and gain familiarity and comfort with the learning curve leading to team adoption. IT and business team leaders may be surprised by the level of capability available to citizen developers for deploying and upgrading apps.

Crack the code to IT buy-in: governance, training and more. 

IT leaders see low-code development as a tool that allows their staff to focus on larger scale, more strategic initiatives. 


of IT teams say improving their collaboration with other lines of business is a high priority.

If properly adopted, a citizen developer program will expand IT’s bandwidth to focus on mission-critical app priorities while building a stronger relationship with the business. The citizen developers can focus on department-specific efficiencies, while IT concentrates on data integration, security, and innovation across the enterprise.

We needed to have a lot more structure around who could build in Salesforce. So the IT team took over any Salesforce development, and from there, even though we were in IT, we realized that there was a lot of benefit from having citizen developers.

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Anna Rodriguez

Solution Principal, Slalom Consulting

Assure your IT team, that:

  • Citizen developers and IT will have clear roles and responsibilities. Although citizen developers are building the app, the developer is still in charge of evaluating requests, providing documentation, and giving guidance with regular check-ins.
  • The IT team will have a chance to vet the platform and process through a pilot before the citizen developer program rolls out.
  • All citizen developers will undergo group and self-directed training sessions to ensure an adequate skill set prior to receiving access to a development environment or sandbox. 
  • Citizen developers will not have access to the production environment, so no existing app will be affected.
  • There will be a documented process in place to ensure citizen developers are aware of the software development lifecycle along with technical and business case requirements necessary to submit their ideas.
  • A council with representatives from both business and IT will steer the program by reviewing backlogs, selecting apps suitable for citizen development, and assigning project resources.
  • Maintenance and support for apps delivered by citizen developers will be assigned in the governance process. Any updates or app refreshes will be treated as a new app request.

We didn’t get here overnight. We had a plan but had to gain buy-in and adoption on the business and on the IT side.

Hear David's Story

David Neely, Senior Manager of Technology

Governance Plan

Establish development standards and protocols.

Low-code platforms are appealing because they allow citizen developers to quickly push secure applications into production without impacting IT’s enterprise projects. But in order to ensure data security and proper use of IT’s assistance, you’ll need to develop and educate CitDevs on a governance plan tailored to the new citizen developer program. This is a step that is often overlooked although vital to program success. In fact, only 29% of IT leaders feel they have the right training in place for non-developers to build apps and even fewer have a strong governance plan to train them on. 

During the pilot phase, your team will work on an extensive system of governance. For now, your presentations will benefit from a solid outline. 

Here is a simple checklist to consider while crafting your path to low-code development.

  • Define a training and certification process for citizen developers with opportunities to be certified as experts in anything from automating business processes to creating dashboards.
  • Establish trigger points that call for IT involvement.
  • Set up standard workflow protocols for low-code development: sandboxes, testing, validation, audit, integration, and deployment.
  • Determine who the approvers are for each of the steps in the development cycle.
  • Create an evaluation process for admitting projects into either the IT backlog or the citizen developer backlog.
  • Create a standard set of requirements that apply to any project admitted into the citizen developer backlog to ensure each app aligns with compliance and security measures outlined in the governance policy.

Finally, recognize that not all app projects necessarily need the same level of governance. Build some flexibility into your protocol criteria. Consider subdividing the governance protocols into different levels such as “minimal” and “complete”. 

I used to see a lot of “Let’s move fast, let’s try to be first to market,” whereas now I see companies putting strong governance into place for citizen development and needing leadership.

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Anna Rodriguez

Solution Principal, Slalom Consulting


Get executive sign-off.

Now that you have a solid understanding of citizen development, buy-in from your IT team and business managers along with a governance process plan, it’s time to get the executive team on board.

As you work on putting together your plan, remember to communicate to the executive team your intentions and when they might expect a formal presentation. Once that date is on the calendar, be prepared to do the following based on the information this guide has advised you to gather:

Present the who, what, and why of citizen development.
  • Add industry stats to show the need. Compare them to internal metrics if possible.
  • Showcase success stories and highlight case-study stats and anecdotes to back up the importance of the program and show it has been done before.
Illustrate the opportunity.
  • Carve out numbers that show the current backlog demand.
  • Leverage surveys and interviews to showcase employee interest and potential engagement and participation several years down the line. 
  • Calculate your organization’s one-year and five-year ROI for using citizen developers and a low-code platform. This should include both hours and cost savings as well as revenue impact.
Propose a pilot program.
  • Introduce your partners who have agreed to participate in building and running it.
Outline your system of governance.
  • Include the benefit and feasibility of using a secure low-code platform that meets your industry’s compliance standards.
  • Include a timeline for rolling out governance, training, purchasing (and cost).
Create a vision for the future.
  • Explain how the program might look once it scales, and reiterate the five-year ROI of the program.

Use our presentation template that includes the outline above or build your own.

Once the executive team has given the green light and funding for the program has been secured, you and your team should be ready to begin constructing and rolling out the pilot phase of your company’s brand-new citizen developer program.

Next Up: Pilot

Test and iterate: how you build an extensible citizen development pilot

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