dachsund running towards camera, off leash
PHOTO: James Watson | unsplash

Low-code/no-code tools are surrounded by a lot of hype right now, which makes it challenging to identify how and where you can make them work for your organization. Based on our experience using and helping others use these tools, here are three common business challenges and the strategies for solving them to unlock your people's innovation potential.

Challenge #1: You Need Innovation, But Workers Are Overwhelmed

Your company is feeling the pain of the great reshuffle, and employee engagement is at an all-time low. At the same time, you're struggling to keep the lights on while you adapt to this new reality. You need your IT Team to be more innovative now more than ever, but they're swamped with help requests from remote workers.

The opportunity: Start a Citizen Developer program to help your business innovate at the point of need. Of those surveyed in a recent Microsoft report, 82% of low- or no-code users agree that the technology helps provide an opportunity for software users to improve their development knowledge and technical skills. In addition, the use of no-code or low-code platforms or apps is shown to have led to an 83% positive impact on work satisfaction and workload by users and an 80% positive impact on morale by users. More than 80% of users and potential users of low-code or no-code platforms report that they would be more willing to work for a company that invests in their technical upskilling.

The risk: With the many twists and turns of the recent pandemic and an uncertain economic outlook, many workers are suffering from burnout and anxiety. You see this program as something that will benefit everyone, but if you don't roll it out right, they may see it as "one more thing added to my plate" or even "the straw that broke the camel's back."

The winning strategy: Every organization has one or more tech-savvy businesspeople. You know them: the ones who forward tech articles to you, have the latest version of their favorite devices, or ask to attend tech conferences, even though they aren't in IT. Start with these folks. Sell your vision for how low-code/no-code tools can transform your organization. Ask them if they would try it out and give them a safe space to fail. When they produce their first app or workflow, be sure to share their success widely, and use the occasion to ask if anyone else has pain points in their day-to-day work that automation might solve. Let your 'founding' citizen developers run the group with your guidance and be sure to invest in ongoing training.

Takeaway: You don't appoint Citizen Developers, you nurture them. Start small and focus on organic growth. Just the fact that you are making an effort will go a long way, even for employees who don't participate.

Related Article: 2 Misconceptions Getting in the Way of Your Citizen Developer Efforts

Challenge #2: Software Costs Are Tanking Your Budget

Annual renewals and support contracts for specialized operations software have a stranglehold on your company's budget. You would love to replace these systems with something developed and maintained in-house, but your small dev team is already 110% committed to other projects.

The opportunity: Enlist a small team of business subject matter experts (SMEs) who know the system and your business processes to use a low-code tool and recreate the core functionality of the existing system. This will give the people who use the system 'ownership' of it, lead to better adoption, and eliminate the annual licensing and support subscriptions.

The risk: Handing off the development and maintenance of a mission-critical application to 'part-time' developers is risky, especially if they are inexperienced. And if you haven't insisted on proper documentation and version control, you could have a mess on your hands if any of your SMEs suddenly leave.

The winning strategy: This depends on how much time you have.

Suppose you have six to nine months before you need to start development. In that case, you could spend that time getting your team some formal training, creating a regular cadence of support and feedback, and having them build increasingly complex apps and flows to demonstrate they have the skills needed to tackle your big project. This is very doable if your SMEs are excited about the tools and the potential outcomes.

But if you're under pressure to cut costs yesterday, you can work with a partner to build the system using your low-code platform of choice and include hands-on and shadowing sessions, so your citizen developers see how it's all put together, or even give them some of the simpler work to complete. You are still getting the speed and agility that comes with using low-code/no-code tools, and if you assure the system documentation is completed and work out a way to have the partner available for support for the first few months while your team takes increasing responsibility, you have the best of both worlds.

Takeaway: When it comes to low-code/no-code projects, 'Do it yourself' does not have to mean 'Do it ALL yourself.' Outside build/inside maintenance is often a good approach when it comes to mission-critical apps, especially for new citizen developers.

Related Article: What it Takes to Build a Citizen Developer Program

Challenge #3: IT Team Needs a New Purpose

As they have moved more workloads to the cloud over the last few years to enable remote and hybrid work, some IT employees have begun to feel their jobs are on the line. Senior leadership might be questioning the value of having an internal IT department at all, the urge to 'outsource everything' seems to be growing.

The opportunity: Use this pressure as a catalyst for your IT team's growth. There are great examples of IT Teams that transformed their position in the organization by using low-code/no-code tools to provide new innovative services to the business. Whether automating onboarding workflows, creating beautiful forms for data collection, building conversational bots that provide answers to standard questions, or setting up desktop automation to help overburdened staff perform manual tasks, your IT team will show they continue to add significant value to your business, and probably have fun doing it!

The risk: Working directly with business stakeholders and modeling business processes may be new to some of your IT staff, which might produce additional stress for them and their business partners. This initiative builds confidence, so you need to get it right the first time.

The winning strategy: Identify the members of your IT team who seem to have the best rapport with business users and are the most interested in learning low-code/no-code tools. Note: these may not be the same people — that's OK. Provide two learning tracks: one for the basics of business analysis, and one for the specific low-code/no-code tool you've selected. Now identify a friendly business unit who will be your pilot, choose a simple first project, and be sure to check in with everyone involved at set touch points. As the confidence of your team and the business stakeholders grows, expand to a few more pilots, and then take stock. By then, you should have some success stories to tell and some important learnings. Help the IT Team package this up into a presentation and officially launch your new service offering. And who knows? You may have some business folks who want to join the effort as citizen developers!

Takeaway: Low-code/no-code tools are a great way to help your IT team be seen as the business heroes you know they are. The time is right to pivot to a new way of working and thinking.

Citizen Developers Need a Champion

All these scenarios have one thing in common: someone who will champion the initiative and assure that the staff involved have the training, guidance, and direction they need to be successful. The vision has to come from you but depending on your available resources, you may want to bring in outside help to get your program started and your people trained.

However you do it, a low-code/no-code approach makes good business sense and, when combined with other initiatives, can boost employee satisfaction and engagement.