Citizen development is on the rise.
According to Gartner, "a citizen developer is a user who creates new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT.
"In the past, end-user application development was limited to single-user or workgroup solutions built with tools like Microsoft Excel and Access. However, today, end users can build departmental, enterprise and even public applications using shared services, fourth-generation language (4GL)-style development platforms and cloud computing services."
SEE: IT Training Policy (Tech Pro Research)
Why citizen development is on the rise
This is partly due to a lack of developers available to accomplish all the work that needs to get done, and the reality that with basic training anyone can build a simple app.
The upsurge in citizen development raises many questions for IT project managers (PM). PM is a unique discipline that can take years of training and experience to develop and is tough enough to execute well in IT. So, when outside users who've never been software project managers get called upon by their supervisors to do this work, IT PMs must be prepared.
One way to do this is by assessing which of the company's business areas is best suited for software project management responsibilities. Keep in mind, that an assessment like this is unique for every company, however, there is some historical information about how non-IT departments are likely to perform when wearing the software project management hat.
SEE: Mobile app development policy (Tech Pro Research)
Departments best suited for project management
What business areas would do well in citizen development? Here's a rundown of departments that are most—and least—likely to succeed in software project management:
Like IT, engineers have extensive training in software and project management. Engineering is also a project-oriented discipline. In other words, work is done on a per project basis, and not on a repeating cycle of what you do each day, each week, and each month. Engineers are accustomed to QA'ing their products before they release them and working with tight deadlines. As long as they remain focused on engineering-centric applications, engineers should do well as citizen developers.
Manufacturing and operations personnel often make a smooth transition to software project management because they have experience managing multiple people and technologies on production lines. They understand the impacts of a single machine or function going down and have an easier time understanding what the impact of a new application or app change could entail.
Most financial personnel are analytic by nature. This may predispose them to working well with software and programming logic. However, they are also accustomed to working in a cyclical (not project-oriented) workflow. Their workflows repeat in daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly cycles. Consequently, when they are called upon to manage a project that is not cyclical, it can be hard to transition to a project manager role.
This highly creative group expects immediate results and fulfillment from their application work. They are best served designing product configurators that aren't too complicated, dashboards, and easy-to-use interfaces that can help with queries and also with customer-facing activities. Most sales and marketing individuals do not have the patience to painstakingly debug an app or to worry about integration with other systems and applications. Project management is not a natural fit for most people in this group.
SEE: Quick glossary: Project management (Tech Pro Research)
A final word for IT
This past month, I visited with several industry analysts and companies deploying citizen development. While all agreed that some app development work historically performed by IT would be undertaken by end users, all agreed that ultimately elements like security, governance, vendor management, maintenance, and application integration will end up with IT.
For this reason, it is important for IT to actively collaborate with user departments—not only in app development but in the management and execution of citizen developed software.
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Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.