The Betty Blocks Guide to Citizen Development

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What is a Citizen Developer? - Citizen Developer vs. Professional DeveloperHow to Find Your Citizen Developers - What Can Citizen Developers Build? - Citizen Developers Benefits - Combatting Shadow IT - Citizen Development Training and Mentoring - Combatting Shadow IT - Collaboration With IT - Combatting Shadow IT - Continued Support

According to leading global research and advisory firm Forrester, in the U.S. alone there will be a deficit of 500,000 software developers by 2024 (How To Harness Citizen Developers To Expand Your AD&D Capacity, Forrester Research, Inc., April 19, 2017).


Across all industries and global markets, the demand for software is skyrocketing and traditional Java or .NET developers simply can’t keep up. When we speak with enterprise organizations, it’s clear that IT departments have enough on their plates just keeping the ship running smoothly, leaving sales, customer service, marketing, and field operations departments with no way to adapt, modernize, or innovate.

Here’s some good news – there is a solution. With the rise of low- and no-code application development platforms, it’s never been easier for business users to create their own IT solutions in a safe and governed environment. This is the world of citizen development.


CitDev PMI Webinar - Definition

Chris Obdam (CEO, Betty Blocks) and Arjun Jamnadass (Head of Citizen Development, FTI Consulting) give their definitions of citizen development.

The Rise of the Citizen Developer

Citizen Developers represent a full-on paradigm shift of how we think about software development, and who can be a developer.

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What is a citizen developer?

Let’s dissect the term citizen development. First, the word ‘development’: When we talk about application development, we usually think of apps being built by experienced developers. Traditionally, this is the case, and experienced developers are still essential for effective citizen development.


However, with the rising demand for software and the shortage of experienced developers, we need to find more developers – that’s where the word ‘citizen’ comes in. ‘Citizen’ simply means someone who is not an experienced professional in the discipline in question – in this case, application development. So, citizen development not only expands your pool of developers, it also brings other insights and expertise into the software development process.


Citizen developer vs. professional developer 

From time to time we encounter the concern that citizen developers will one day replace experienced, professional developers. This is simply not the case. As I mentioned above, experienced and professional developers are still absolutely critical for successful citizen development strategies. For example, as we’ll discuss later, a key role of experienced developers is to provide governance, ensuring organizations avoid shadow IT.

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Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms 2020 sees Betty Blocks named a Visionary for the second consecutive year among 18 recognized vendors. As Gartner has positioned Betty Blocks highest for ability to execute in the Visionaries Quadrant, we’re proud of our position this year and feel we have proven our platform’s capabilities alongside our vision to democratize citizen development.

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How to find your citizen developers

You wouldn’t hire a citizen developer – not yet, at least. Rather, enterprise organizations look within their own workforce to find their citizen developers. Potential citizen developers usually have a role within the business side of an organization, for example, they could be in sales, HR, or customer service. Often, potential citizen developers will already be known to the organization – they’re natural problem solvers who go above and beyond to improve their department and the organization as a whole.


As far as technical skills go, many citizen developers have some basic knowledge of programming, but it certainly isn’t essential. As senior Forrester analyst, John Bratencevic, says, “Attitude is more important than ability.” People with the right attitude can bring invaluable knowledge to the development process; they’re often much closer to products, processes, and customers than IT professionals, and welcoming their insight can lead to much more effective solutions.


Forrester asked non-professional developers why they spend their own time developing applications and websites. Some of the most common responses included: “I generally enjoy programming and learning about new technologies;” “As part of a personal hobby or pastime;” and “To add innovative solutions into my daily life.” At their core, citizen developers are highly self-motivated individuals who proactively seek opportunities to innovate and get involved in the software development life cycle (SDLC).

What can citizen developers build?

Equipped with no- or low-code technology, citizen developers can build web, mobile, and back-office applications. Check out the Betty Blocks App Gallery for examples of applications built with citizen development. In the below image, Forrester digs deeper to identify some of the most popular citizen developer use cases (How To Harness Citizen Developers To Expand Your AD&D Capacity, Forrester Research, Inc., April 19, 2017).

Citizen Developer

The development of administrative and reporting apps is one area in which citizen developers can have the biggest impact within enterprise organizations. These are applications that currently run on spreadsheets or database tools, and also include data-tracking and workflow or administrative apps.

Administrative and reporting applications are generally so far below the radar of IT in terms of backlog, that without citizen developers to step in, they would never enter the software development life cycle. More hands from the business side can knock these off the backlog, leveraging business expertise to innovate faster and speed digital transformation organization-wide.


CitDev PMI Webinar - Map

Arjun Jamnadass (Head of Citizen Development, FTI Consulting) on his work with Project Management Institute (PMI). Includes PMI's Citizen Development Canvas.

Citizen development benefits

Citizen developers support your organization’s ability to react when there is a need for change by helping to drive digital transformation. They can contribute to applications that automate processes and fully digitize systems.

Businesses have an ongoing demand for applications and need solutions now. By using a no-code or low-code platform, citizen developers can build solutions rapidly, easily, and effectively using visual modeling. Development lifecycles that once took months now take weeks or even days.

Better alignment between business and IT
Citizen developers align business and IT by bridging the gap between the differing interests. They combine business acumen with powerful tools to develop applications under the full governance of IT.

Continuous improvement
Citizen developers will only become more valuable as their skills expand over time. The more experience (and more tools) citizen developers gain, the more their development skills will expand to deliver greater business value.

Citizen developers ignite the spark of innovation. Organizations often rely on their IT team or external software providers when they have a need for a new product, but with IT teams bogged down maintaining existing systems there isn’t always room to innovate. No-code and low-code tools enable citizen developers to explore new solutions and business models to better serve their own needs and the needs of their customers.

Combatting shadow IT

One of the most significant citizen development benefits has to do with the fact that business-side employees have always found ways to create their own solutions – and will continue to do so – with or without IT’s knowledge and oversight. Examples include spreadsheets, templates, shared folders, and even basic applications. This is known as shadow IT.

What to do about Shadow IT

The problem with this is that, because IT isn’t aware of these solutions, there’s no way to govern them. This can create huge risks for the organization, particularly in areas such as security, support, and modernization. Citizen development gives business-side employees the opportunity to take part in building the solutions they need in a safe and governed environment. It’s all about understanding that employees are going to build the solutions that IT doesn’t have time to build, so why not minimize the risk to the organization by implementing a safe way for them to do so?

How does it work?
To prevent shadow IT, the IT department needs to provide a controlled environment in which citizen developers can flourish. With a platform like Betty Blocks, citizen developers start building the solution they require under the governance of IT. When the citizen developers have a minimal viable product (MVP), the project is transferred to IT.

Here are some more tips that will ensure that you avoid shadow IT in your organization by implementing citizen development.

Graph Graph Graph

Innovation starts with the business and then transfers to IT. 
IT provides Citizen Developers with a platform for innovation within a controlled environment.


CitDev PMI Webinar - Governance

Chris Obdam (CEO, Betty Blocks) on why it's so important for IT to govern citizen development, and how improper governance can lead to shadow IT.

Citizen development mentoring and training

Citizen developers are already technologically savvy and self-motivated learners by nature. It’s what makes them citizen developers in the first place. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t need guidance. Training and mentoring helps citizen developers gain new skill sets, more confidence, and learn new working techniques. The more professional development and guidance you can afford your citizen developers, the better equipped they will be to align with IT’s expertise and the goals of the organization.

Collaboration with IT

IT departments can actively collaborate with citizen developers by, for example, delegating administrative and reporting apps. IT departments should also be actively involved in overseeing citizen developer projects to eliminate the risk of shadow IT. While this promotes security and control, citizen developers can also learn from IT by working on projects led by traditional developers.

Continued support

In order for a citizen development strategy to live up to its full potential, CIOs and IT managers need to promote the movement throughout the entire organization. This ensures that the culture of the organization as a whole is supportive of the citizen development strategy. Continued support on an organization level is also essential because there is no endpoint to innovation or rapid application development projects. A successful citizen development strategy leaves room for continued adaptation and improvement, throughout the whole software development life cycle of digital transformation. Citizen development enables large enterprise organizations to be more flexible and agile. As long as IT governance is both strong and adaptive, organizations can quickly adapt to any changes that come their way and respond to new opportunities for growth.


Citizen developers should never be handed the tools and set loose to overrun the IT landscape within an organization. They need formal policies in order to contribute to the full IT ecosystem. With the proper governance, citizen developers can and will become an integral ingredient to a successful and efficient IT strategy.

Is your organization ready for citizen developers?

Is your organization ready for citizen developers? Take a look at our Meet Your Citizen Developer whitepaper for tips on finding citizen developers and integrating them into your IT strategy.