Finding the center of citizen developer success

  • Posted on October 5, 2020
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes
Finding the center of citizen developer success

This article was originally written by Avanade alum Venkat Rao.

This article was originally published on MSDynamicsWorld.com

Since you’re reading these words, you’ve probably heard that the era of expert-only software development is over. We’ve entered a new age of citizen developers, where any of us – IT expert or novice - can use low-to-no-code tools to build the software we need to do our work and solve our problems. But in all this talk about citizen developers, it would be fair to ask: citizen of what?

This is not just some accidental metaphor. In a world where every worker is a potential software developer, every team can make its own tools, and the ways of working are constantly evolving across the whole organization, we need more than just great tools; we need great governance.

Most organizations won’t want to simply exert the iron will of expert IT gatekeepers enforcing the rule. Nor will they want to leave citizen developers to be completely self-governing. A governance approach that balances between the two is more appropriate. And yes, that does involve technical guidelines and best practices that are accessible to everyone, but it’s much more than that. It requires a clear, transparent process by which interfaces, databases, metrics, and goals are kept consistent across the whole organization, and a process by which that process can be democratically updated and changed. In short, it requires a whole new culture.

In the case of Microsoft Power Platform, one of the most robust sets of citizen-developer tools out there, Microsoft anticipated this need with what it calls the Power Platform Center of Excellence Starter Kit. Microsoft’s kit is a starter set of automation and tooling to monitor, govern, and nurture the deployment of Power Platform. If it’s the launching point for Power Platform governance, you might say it’s like the Constitution – providing the underlying mechanism for a balanced deployment approach that’s neither too tight nor too loose.

The Center of Excellence Starter Kit’s “monitor” features let you gather, catalog, and view data in the platform’s Common Data Service entities: Environments, Apps, Flows, Connectors, Connection References, Makers, and Audit Logs.  This is about overseeing what Power Platform components are being used and where.

The Center of Excellence Starter Kit’s “govern” features let you automate auditing, track compliance with data loss prevention policies, and set permissions for App, Flow and Chatbot development.

This component of the Starter Kit provides scaffolding for how to foster an internal community of Power Platform users.  The assets that form the Nurture component include tools to onboard new makers, provide training, and share best practices.  There’s also a module that gives your citizen developers visibility to certain Power Platform apps so they can be inspired by what others are creating.

While the Starter Kit provides a good initial shell, it’s still elemental and tactical.  As Microsoft says on its website, “The kit doesn't represent the entire CoE, because managing a CoE requires more than the tools alone; the CoE also requires people, communication, and defined requirements and processes. The tools provided are just a means to get to the end goal, but the CoE itself must be thoughtfully designed by each organization based on their needs and preferences.” To establish an effective, functioning CoE program you need to adapt the Starter Kit to your specific business situation and surround it with strategy, structure, standards, and success metrics.

The true starting point for a Power Platform citizen developer program is good strategy. If you haven’t done so, articulate clear strategic objectives for the initiative. The more you can detail your goals, the more effectively you can bring your CoE to life and find success.

  • What do you expect to accomplish as an organization with Power Platform?
  • Is it primarily part of a broader workplace strategy to boost employee engagement? 
  • Is it mainly to drive more digital innovation so you can better keep pace with competitor challenges and customer demands?
  • Is it meant, first, to boost the relationship between IT and your business units – relieving some of the request burden of your technology team by spreading the load across the organization?

How you have structured your team to manage the Power Platform environment is also fundamental to success. 

  • Have you assigned administrative and security roles and allocated permissions so that users have access only to the tools and environments they need?
  • Who decides what citizen-developed apps are a “go” and which require more work? 
  • How will your governance team communicate with each other and with your leadership to keep the program on track?
  • Have you communicated key roles, owners, and contact information to your citizen developers?

The next series of essential questions to answer in establishing your CoE has to do with development standards. 

  • Have you defined software goals and desired outcomes and distilled those into a design process with clear standards? 
  • How will a citizen developer know whether or not they’ve built an acceptable Power Platform solution? 
  • How will you ensure a consistent level of app quality across your organization?
  • How will you measure and moderate compliance with standards?

Beyond out-of-the-box Starter Kit activity logs and analytics, you need ways to understand all the information being generated across all your organization’s apps, and there could be thousands of those. You need ways to understand how the apps are being used, which will all be particular to your organization’s unique ways of working. And you need ways of ensuring your people feel engaged with and empowered by these tools, or else their usage will dwindle off, or they won’t step up as citizen developers in the first place.

  • What success metrics will your CoE establish and track to drive the right behaviors and results?

Lessons in Governance
The Constitution was an amazing document that made possible a completely new enterprise called the United States. But it was just that: a document. It outlined a vision and a structure, but implementing it took work, hands-on participation, learning by example, and adjusting ideals to accommodate reality. 

That’s what citizenship is all about. When incorporating a citizen development tool like Power Platform in your organization, a clearly defined plan is the foundation of good governance required for a successful implementation. But the plan is just the beginning; making it work takes — well, ongoing work.

You don’t have to go it alone, though. Some of this effort can be bolstered by automation, as is the nature of software challenges. Many parts of these essential CoE elements can be automated as enhancements to Microsoft’s CoE Starter Kit. This is especially where you might want outside help from experts who understand not just the Power Platform tools but the dynamics that affect its adoption inside all kinds of organizations. 

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