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Citizen Development Challenges: Learn How To Overcome and Succeed

December 21, 2023

citizen development challenges

If you are here, chances are you are considering implementing citizen development in your business but are struggling to make it successful. 

Your software developers must be relieved as they will have the opportunity to focus on strategic and time-consuming development requirements. On the other hand, you have to control and manage the citizen developers’ applications that are not user friendly, don’t integrate with other tools, lag a lot, and are prone to data breaches.

While these are just some of the common citizen development challenges, you, as a business manager or IT leader, could be struggling with various others that we will have a look at in this article. 

Additionally, we will discuss solutions to each problem so that you can learn to deal with them.

Addressing common citizen development challenges (and their solutions)

Some common challenges with adopting citizen development initiatives include skills gaps, security risks, integration complexity, lack of governance, and resistance to change.

While citizen development faces adoption barriers, businesses can mitigate these issues through thoughtful enablement mechanisms and IT guidance.

1. Learning curve for citizen developers

Even though citizen development platforms and tools are designed to be user friendly and require little to no coding skills, there is still a learning curve. Non-technical users or citizen developers may need time to familiarize themselves with these tools and understand how they work.

Some may struggle to grasp the concepts of workflows, data modeling, or automation, especially if they have never worked with such tools before.


Access to training programs and learning resources: Equip your citizen developers with learning and training programs to develop their skills. Ensure these programs provide resources to equip citizen developers with the necessary foundational knowledge.

At the same time, they should cover fundamental technical concepts and progressively advance to more complex topics. 

Encourage collaboration: An open dialogue and partnership between citizen developers and IT professionals allows the transfer of knowledge and skills. IT experts can provide guidance, mentorship, and technical oversight, while citizen developers bring domain-specific insights and creativity to the table.

This synergy not only bridges the expertise gap but also enhances the quality and robustness of digital solutions.

Opt for user-friendly low-code development platforms: User friendly low-code development platforms or no-code platforms offer visual interfaces, pre-built components, and drag-and-drop functionality, reducing the need for extensive coding skills.

This approach democratizes software development, enabling citizen developers to create applications and automate processes without in-depth coding knowledge.

2. Security concerns in citizen development

Non-technical employees who engage in citizen development may not have a deep understanding of cybersecurity best practices, including data access restrictions, background check of staff, and incident security service. A lack of such security options can lead to vulnerabilities and data breaches in the applications they create. 

Shadow IT can be another security concern, as employees could start using unauthorized or unsanctioned IT solutions and services without the knowledge or approval of the IT department.


Establish governance policies and guidelines: Comprehensive governance policies and guidelines will outline security best practices, data handling procedures, and compliance standards that citizen developers must adhere to, including ISO / IEC 27001:2013.

They should also specify security checkpoints, such as mandatory security reviews and testing, to ensure that developed solutions meet security requirements.

Access to approved low-code/no-code platforms: Platforms pre-vetted for security and compliance will significantly reduce the risk associated with ad-hoc development efforts.

Approved platforms typically come with built-in security features, such as authentication, encryption, and access controls, ensuring that the applications created by citizen developers meet security standards. 

Conduct regular audits: Regular audits help identify and assess shadow IT applications and services within the business. These audits involve comprehensive scans of the digital landscape to uncover unauthorized or unmanaged applications and tools used by citizen developers.

You can follow SOC 2 Type 2 to conduct an audit in compliance with the standards set by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).

3. Integration complexity for citizen developers

Citizen developers often struggle while attempting to connect their newly developed applications with existing systems, databases, or external services within an organization. 

This issue arises due to the diverse technology stacks, data formats, and protocols that modern businesses employ. Citizen developers, who typically lack deep technical expertise, can find it daunting to navigate these intricacies.


Access to integration tools and platforms: Integration tools offer pre-built connectors and intuitive interfaces, enabling citizen developers to connect disparate systems and data sources without the need for extensive coding expertise.

Additionally, you should offer training and resources to help citizen developers understand and utilize these tools effectively.

Provide pre-built connectors or APIs: These connectors and APIs act as ready-made bridges between different software components, simplifying the integration process significantly.

Citizen developers can leverage these resources to connect their applications with widely used databases, cloud services, and third-party applications without delving into intricate coding or integration tasks. 

Encourage the use of standardized data formats and protocols: By establishing a common set of data formats (such as JSON or XML) and communication protocols (like REST or SOAP), organizations can significantly reduce compatibility issues during integration.

When citizen developers work with these standardized formats and protocols, it becomes easier to exchange data between different systems and applications seamlessly.

4. Quality assurance for citizen-developed applications

It’s important to ensure that the applications your citizen developers create are functional, reliable, usable, and perform up to the best standards. 

However, these citizen developers may not have the skill set needed to judge these criteria. They may fail to detect any issues. Typically, creating thorough text plans prevents such issues, but due to a lack of issues, citizen developers might not know how these plans should look, which can lead to functional gaps in the applications at a later stage.


Implement test automation tools: Advanced low-code and no-code development tools provide app testing functionalities wherein users can test the app for various use cases just as any end user would.

These tests allow you to catch any functionality errors in the app. Integrating testing into the application development process will ensure your citizen developers test their apps for regressing, load, and performance, before they move on to the deployment stage.

Encourage peer review: You can have your IT professionals act as peer reviewers of the apps citizen developers create.

Citizen developers can provide domain-specific insights, and IT professionals can offer their technical expertise. Together, they can review and test the app thoroughly and ensure that it meets both business and technical requirements.

5. Scalability challenges with citizen developers’ apps

As your business grows, the load on the applications will also go up. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that citizen developers’ apps are scalable. 

However, these developers may not have the expertise to ascertain if their apps are future proof. They may struggle to understand the architectural principles needed to promote scalability, which includes microservices, distributed systems, and load balancing.


Promote performance tuning practices: Performance tuning practices include code optimization, which requires citizen developers to go back to their application design to remove redundant processes or resource-intensive operations.

This results in faster and more resource-efficient applications that are capable of handling increased loads and scale with time.

Integrate load testing: Leveraging test automation tools, you can load test the applications to see if they will be able to perform with a large amount of data or a large user base.

You can run multiple test simulations to identify scalability challenges. Such tests will help you pinpoint the problem area and work on its improvement. 

6. Lack of collaboration 

A lot of times, employees work in isolation, without communicating their needs, existing resources, or ongoing projects with IT professionals and other stakeholders. It can lead to silos, knowledge gaps, and conflicts over time. 


Establish communication channels and forums: Creating a collaborative ecosystem by establishing clear communication channels and dedicated forums will provide spaces for citizen developers, IT professionals, and other stakeholders to interact, discuss projects, share innovative ideas, and raise concerns.

They encourage cross-functional collaboration, fostering a sense of inclusivity and shared ownership of initiatives.

Provide collaboration tools and platforms: Collaboration tools and platforms that streamline communication and document sharing enable citizen developers, IT professionals, and other stakeholders to collaborate effectively, irrespective of their physical locations.

Communication tools like instant messaging and video conferencing enhance real-time discussions, while document sharing platforms allow for seamless access to project-related resources.

Form cross-functional teams: Forming cross-functional teams that include citizen developers, IT professionals, and subject matter experts from different departments helps combine diverse skill sets, perspectives, and domain knowledge.

Citizen developers contribute their domain-specific expertise and creative problem-solving abilities, while IT professionals offer technical guidance and governance. Subject matter experts provide valuable insights into the specific needs of their respective departments.

7. Maintenance and support gaps in citizen development 

Citizen developers may not have the necessary resources, including time and expertise, to provide ongoing maintenance and support for their applications. 

Suppose the original citizen developer who created the application leaves the business or changes roles. In that case, there may be a lack of documentation and knowledge transfer, making it even more challenging for others to understand and maintain the application.


Establish a knowledge transfer process: A knowledge transfer process should include departing citizen developers sharing their insights, knowledge, and experience about their applications with other team members or successors. It can include documentation, one-on-one knowledge-sharing sessions, or even mentorship programs.

By establishing such a process, you ensure that critical information about citizen-developed applications is not lost when a developer leaves or moves to a different project.

Define clear support procedures: Establish well-defined procedures for user support. These procedures should encompass a structured framework for users to report issues, concerns, or requests related to citizen-developed applications. It's essential to create clear channels for issue reporting, such as dedicated helpdesk systems or user-friendly feedback forms.

Additionally, the procedures should outline a systematic process for issue resolution, including triage, prioritization, assignment, and tracking of reported problems. 

8. Resource constraints in citizen development initiatives

There can be multiple limitations in terms of time, budget, personnel, technology infrastructure, and other essential resources that citizen developers may face when attempting to create and maintain software applications. These constraints can hinder the effectiveness and success of citizen development initiatives.


Allocate sufficient resources: Prioritize citizen development initiatives by allocating sufficient time, budget, and personnel. Adequate time allows citizen developers to learn, experiment, and create quality solutions without being rushed.

Sufficient budget ensures access to necessary tools, training, and support resources. Allocating the right personnel with diverse skills fosters a productive and collaborative environment.

Prioritize citizen development projects: Adopt a strategic approach by prioritizing citizen development projects based on their importance and potential impact. By identifying and focusing on projects aligned with the business's strategic goals and objectives, limited resources can be allocated more efficiently.

Establish mentorship programs: Mentorship programs foster knowledge transfer, skill development, and effective collaboration. Seasoned IT professionals can provide guidance, share expertise, and offer technical support to citizen developers, helping them overcome challenges more efficiently. 

9. Reusability challenges in citizen development

Citizen developers often create project-specific applications that address their immediate business needs without considering broader applicability, resulting in solutions tightly tied to a single use case. 

Lack of coding standards, modular design, or best practices may also lead to applications with code that is difficult to understand and adapt for future use.


Encourage development of applications with modularity: Citizen developers can be encouraged to create applications and components with the idea of breaking down complex functionalities into reusable modules or libraries.

This approach allows for the development of building blocks that can be easily integrated into future projects, saving time and effort.

Create component libraries or repositories: Repositories serve as centralized hubs where citizen developers can contribute and access reusable components, widgets, or modules for common functionalities.

By creating and maintaining such repositories, you can encourage the sharing of proven, reusable code components.

10. Issues with performance optimization 

Performance issues come up when citizen developers, who have zero to limited technical knowledge, attempt to create software applications or automate processes. 

These challenges can result in applications that run slowly, consume excessive resources, or do not meet performance expectations. 


Develop templates: Create templates and pre-built frameworks incorporating optimized code for common tasks. These templates offer citizen developers a solid foundation for their projects, ensuring that performance best practices are built in from the start.

Implement monitoring and analytics tools: Monitoring and analytics tools offer real-time insights into application performance. These tools continuously track the application's behavior, measuring key performance indicators such as response times, resource utilization, and error rates.

By having access to this data, citizen developers can identify performance bottlenecks as they occur and take immediate action to optimize their applications.

11. Resistance to change in citizen development adoption   

Resistance to change is a common challenge that you will face when implementing citizen development in your business. Some employees and stakeholders may show reluctance or opposition to adopt new processes or technologies, such as citizen development. 

Most of the time, fear of job displacement, lack of technical confidence, and cultural resistance are the factors behind resistance.


Communicate objectives, benefits, and goals: Articulate the objectives, benefits, and goals of citizen development comprehensively to all stakeholders. Emphasize that citizen development is not intended to replace existing IT roles but to complement them.

Highlight how citizen development can accelerate project delivery, foster innovation, and empower non-technical staff to contribute meaningfully to digital initiatives.

Loop-in IT professionals: Encouraging IT teams to participate in the citizen development process actively creates a cooperative environment.

IT professionals can provide valuable guidance, mentorship, and technical oversight to citizen developers, reassuring them of their support and expertise.

Implement a change management framework: A formal change management framework should encompass strategies to handle resistance and ensure a seamless transition.

It should involve clearly defined communication plans, stakeholder engagement, and training programs that emphasize the benefits and objectives of citizen development.

12. User experience (UX) design challenges in citizen development

Problems with UX design can arise when individuals without formal training in UX design attempt to create software applications or interfaces for end users. Poor UX can lead to user dissatisfaction, lower adoption rates, and decreased productivity. 


Offer basic UX training: UX training should emphasize fundamental principles of user-centered design, usability testing, and accessibility standards.

Citizen developers can benefit from understanding the importance of putting users at the center of the design process, conducting usability tests to gather feedback, and ensuring accessibility for diverse user groups.

Create pre-designed UX templates: UX templates serve as a solid foundation for citizen developers, offering ready-made user interface elements, design patterns, and user flows.

By providing these resources, you ensure that citizen-developed applications start with a user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing design.

Develop a design and style guide: The design and style guide should outline design principles, typography, color schemes, layout guidelines, and interaction patterns.

By providing a comprehensive reference, you ensure citizen developers follow a unified design language, promoting coherence and a professional look and feel across all applications.

13. Inadequate training and education deficits in citizen development

Without proper training and education, citizen developers may lack the essential technical skills and knowledge required to create effective and secure applications. 

This can lead to the development of subpar or unreliable solutions. This can also result in creating applications with security vulnerabilities, exposing businesses to data breaches, cyberattacks, and compliance issues.


Establish training programs: Establish structured training programs tailored to the specific needs of citizen developers. These programs can include online courses, hands-on workshops, and mentoring opportunities.

This investment in education not only bridges skill gaps but also empowers citizen developers to take on more complex projects with confidence, ultimately improving the overall success of citizen development initiatives.

Create internal knowledge-sharing platforms: These platforms provide a space where citizen developers can collaborate, share their experiences, and access valuable resources. Citizen developers get the opportunity to pose questions, seek guidance, and share best practices.

By fostering a culture of knowledge exchange, you create a supportive environment that empowers citizen developers to learn from each other and from more experienced IT professionals.

Establish feedback mechanisms: Feedback mechanisms facilitate direct communication between users and developers, allowing for user-centered improvements.

End users can share their experiences, suggest enhancements, and report issues they encounter. This feedback loop not only fosters a sense of user involvement but also provides valuable real-world insights for citizen developers.

How citizen development can be a game-changer

While there are challenges associated with the adoption of citizen development, citizen development is still a game changer. Here are some reasons:

Issues related to traditional development

Traditional development is inflexible, with each phase (requirements, design, implementation, testing, deployment) relying on the completion of the previous one. This rigidity can make it challenging to adapt to changing project requirements.

Since the entire project is planned and executed in a sequential manner, it often results in long delivery times before any usable software is produced. According to Forbes, it takes about 4-9 months to build software using traditional processes.


of companies outsource software development. 

Source: Accelerance

Hiring a software developer can cost as low as $10 and go all the way up to $170 per hour, depending on the country the developer is from.

The shortage of skilled IT professionals, including software developers, testers, and system architects, is another major challenge, as 86.6% of companies worldwide are facing IT shortages in 2023. 

Citizen development as the solution 

Citizen development expands the pool of potential developers to include non-technical staff. This alleviates resource constraints by empowering employees from various departments to contribute to software development, reducing the burden on IT teams.

Citizen developers often work on smaller, less complex projects, allowing for quicker development cycles. This agility can help businesses respond faster to evolving business needs. In fact, the use of low-code/no-code automation can cut custom app development time by 50% to 90%.

As citizen development relies on existing staff, it can lead to cost savings by reducing the need to hire additional developers or outsource development work.

Collaborative citizen development fosters better communication between IT professionals, business stakeholders, and non-technical employees, improving understanding and reducing misalignments.

Shaping the future with citizen development

Citizen development is the future as it empowers every individual to develop the applications they need. While there are multiple challenges associated with citizen development, all of those can be broadly categorized into three major issues: lack of basic coding knowledge, fear of job loss, and misalignment with business goals. 

Fortunately, conducting proper training, fostering communication, implementing change management strategies, and adopting user-friendly low code development tools will help you effectively overcome all the citizen development challenges.

Learn how no-code development platforms can help reduce IT turnover.

low-code development platforms Innovate Faster with Low-Code

Quickly build custom applications and automate workflows with minimal coding using intuitive low-code platforms.

low-code development platforms Innovate Faster with Low-Code

Quickly build custom applications and automate workflows with minimal coding using intuitive low-code platforms.

Citizen Development Challenges: Learn How To Overcome and Succeed Learn how to tackle common citizen development challenges in your business. Discover solutions to issues like technical expertise, security concerns, integration complexity, and more. Empower your non-technical employees with the skills they need for successful citizen development.
Gautam Nimmagadda Gautam is the visionary Founder and CEO of Quixy, leading the company to the forefront of digital transformation. With expertise in no-code technology and business process automation, he is a thought leader in the industry, sharing insights through various platforms.

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