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For citizen development to work address innovation culture first

I’m seeing more and more signals driving this trend which has only been around a short while. Gartner describes citizen development thus.

Its precursor was the consumerisation of IT. One of the key aspects of this trend was that decision making on the use of software in organisations was increasingly being taken by business users, not IT.

Once the floodgates are open you can imagine a logical next step would be to open up not just the purchase of applications by the business, but development of them.

The signals I’m seeing are two-fold. One is vendors’ increasing emphasis of it. The other is customers adoption of programs in their organisation. But for all these efforts, the crucial first element of success that needs addressing is a culture of innovation.

Vendors pushing citizen development

I can only speak most intimately about the efforts the company I currently work for are making. So I’ll stick to them as a case in point but there are certainly more. Microsoft has long been supporting this area of technology with its Power Platform.

As the name suggests, this is a platform play, which it necessarily must be. But it goes way beyond the Power Platform when you think about Azure, itself a vast platform encompassing IaaS, PaaS and SaaS. The former two at least provide a rich playground for customers to develop their own digital solutions in IoT and beyond, neatly encompassed in this post: From tech adoption to tech creation.

Although officially announced only last year, Power Platform has been in the making for some time: Microsoft shares plan to make anyone a software developer. It is the front end shall we say, of citizen development efforts by Microsoft. That’s because it is the easiest way to develop applications by non developers. Azure does require far more technical nous.

And just a word on Bots which often is seen as the entry level playground for applications. This goes way beyond bots so whether they are being adopted or not, don’t take them as a bellwether for success.

Customers adopting programs

I’m starting to see efforts by customers take off. Mostly they are at early stages and still in the hands of IT. They are often focusing on governance frameworks.

This early article neatly captures the thinking and the emphasis on these early stage considerations by IT: Roll your own – what the citizen developer wave means for your enterprise IT security.

This diagram from that article also shows what the perceived factors for success often are:

Now I do agree, running a platform environment for your company is a prerequisite for success. I know we at Microsoft certainly emphasise this a lot, just take a look at this starter kit with its heavy emphasis on the right governance: Introducing the PowerApps Center of Excellence Starter Kit.

This touches on some critical success factors other than governance but here is the one area I think is lacking, critically important and needs addressing before anything else.

Innovation culture

I’m extremely excited about this new trend in citizen development. Being an accidental intrapreneur this sits perfectly with me. I’m a non technical person with a deep desire to innovate and create and am always hacking in our company hackathons, with varying degrees of success. There will be many more like me out there. I’m very lucky to work at a company where we have a culture of innovation that provides the tools and encourages all employees to participate in this new trend.


I’ve even written a trend report about this 👆 that covers many other aspects of innovation which this site is based on.

So what are some of the secret ingredients for success when it comes to creating a great culture of innovation? Well there are many but those that I think are critical, especially for citizen development efforts, are as follows:

1. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should

It is critical that innovation efforts should focus on achieving meaningful business impact and outcomes. Innovation not just for its own sake but to make a dent in something worthwhile. Does it solve a company or ideally end customer pain point? Is it first, cheaper, faster, revenue generating?

And push innovators to behave like startups, making them pitch their ideas, identifying the right positioning for the solution and how they will market it – I mentor startups in this area and think it is critical. Think too how users will adopt and use the solutions, which brings me to the next point.

2. Customer success

Once you have decided something worthy of development, don’t think you can just make it available out there without the hard necessary work of supporting end user adoption. Take a leaf out of the SaaS playbook and create a customer or end users success strategy.

Being a professional in this area I have written a lot about the topic under the customer success category so wont say more here.

3. Experimentation is the new planning

I know it hasn’t taken too long for the fail fast, fail often mantra to receive some short shrift from certain quarters. I’m not advocating over emphasis on failure and in line with my previous two points, as much success as possible should be the goal. But you will never get there without any failure.

A sure means of hindering innovation success is putting too many barriers in place. Like innovators spending too much time on planning or requiring innovators to jump through too many planning and validation hoops.

Being open is a key watchword here too. Experimentation with innovation efforts needs to be open to and inclusive of everyone, including customers. Our most recent global hackathon at Microsoft was made open to customers and embodied this principle: At the Microsoft global Hackathon, customers break something to make something.

4. Leadership, not management.

It all comes from the top. Especially if the culture is not an open one and very hierarchical, it will require executives to lead by example. Participate in company innovation activities and not just by showing interest if you can, muck in.

By management I also refer back to the type of innovation processes that often become a hindrance. Yes you should manage an innovation pipeline effectively, but make it lean.

5. Follow through

The very worse thing that could happen to prevent a culture of innovation from succeeding is that all the good efforts encouraged are not followed through with. Participants are not rewarded, great ideas are not followed through to full fruition, funds, space and time are not made available to develop ideas, etc.

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