Spoiler Alert! Ninety Percent of Citizen Development Programs are Doomed (But Maybe Not Yours)

We have all heard the intense hype around new ways to automate work across the enterprise. One increasingly popular approach is to deploy a robot on every desktop. The big promise is that everybody in the business is magically going to have an automation mindset, sprout engineering discipline out of their ears, and they will be developing bots all over the place.  Nobody will ever need to do any mundane, manual, process work anymore. It is a highly compelling fantasy

I am sorry to be the party pooper here, but this utopian vision is frankly hogwash. The brutal reality is there is a serious problem with citizen bot development – and the vast majority of these initiatives are going to fail. They will fail not because the underlying automation technology is flawed - but because the whole delivery approach is magic beans. If you fail to properly prepare your organization for Citizen Developers, you will fail painfully too. And worse, your failure will not be immediately obvious.  You will limp along, thinking you are doing an ok job until you finally look at the big picture and realize that you have been wasting your time and money.

The good news is you can remove the potentially damaging risk of digital desktop chaos and you can achieve really positive outcomes with citizen bot development – but only if on day one you have a highly structured, organized approach in place, which is underpinned by crystal clear objectives. 

Act now

It is best to do the things I am about to mention at the beginning, but even if you have already started, it is not too late to avoid failure. There are critical things that you need to know – but you will need to action them now if you want to win. You must have a deliberate program in place to ensure success. 

Be clear on success

So, what does success mean? First off, you need to agree, in advance, what you are trying to accomplish with your Citizen Development program. Be explicit about the yardstick(s) that you are going to use to measure your success. Get an agreement on that immediately, because I have news for you; everyone will have different ideas about what success means. For one person, it might be savings, or the number of developers, or the number of hours robots are working. It might be all these things.

Build an engaged community

The second thing that makes a citizen bot developer program work is engagement. You must build a community from your business, and you do not get that by simply installing some software and talking about it at the all-hands.  One primary mistake most organizations make is by haphazardly selecting their initial Citizen Developer cohort.

The first Citizen Developers in your organization must have, above all other things, enthusiasm.  So, how do select an initial cohort of enthusiastic development citizenry?

Get out there and do a dog and pony show that highlights all the awesome things you can do with this automation technology. Communicate your core goal and sell your vision (remember the first step?). Explain how these business outcomes are possible and show how you are going to do it.  Make no mistake, this is a sales job.

Then, give people an easy (but not trivial) way to sign up.  If you do your job well here, your early adopters will sign up.  They are your forward thinkers, willing to work into the wee hours of the night working on some thorny problem. Resist the temptation to offer enticements (those come later), and do not fixate on a specific number of people.  Any participant at this stage who is not fully bought in will slow things down.  Fixate on a level of enthusiasm.

Support, then deliver 

So, you have now got a cadre of enthusiastic potential Citizen Developers, but how do you engage with them? First, establish a buddy system so that people are holding each other accountable – and crucially, connect that back to your success yardsticks. You will also need to start a mentorship program, as these people will need to know who they can call, how they can get online and receive help too.  If one of these folks has a question at two in the morning, they need a way to get it answered.

Once these are in place, the next focus is on building automations.  In the world of Citizen Development, training is doing.  Give your cohort training materials to walk them through writing their first process automation, which will be something trivial (“Hello, World!”). Then, along with their buddy and mentor, get them to pick a real process to automate and work through building their first production automation.  Gamification is helpful here.  Badges, certificates of achievement, recognition, and similar all help you gain and retain engagement.

Final thoughts

Clearly there is so much more to this than I can cover here, but hopefully I have given you food for thought, and an appreciation for what it takes to build a successful Citizen Development program.  I hope these insights of how a highly organized, best practice approach that has a specific objective geared towards getting you there will convince you to press pause, so you can then fast forward to start winning with citizen bot development. As with many things in our industry, to move fast we need to start slow.

And if you want help, come talk to us at info@robiquity.com.  We have a well-baked process that we use to help our clients build a robust and engaged Citizen Development workforce, and we would love to show it to you.