How to establish, govern, and scale a citizen developer strategy is the most common low-code inquiry topic from Forrester clients — and Forrester data shows that at least two-thirds of firms currently have a citizen developer strategy or plan to have one in the next 12 months.

In 2021, Forrester identified three common structures for citizen development using low-code platforms: privateer, democracy, and federation. And over the course of this year, we’ve published a trilogy of case studies illustrating each of the three patterns. The first told the story of a process improvement team that systematically digitized their firm’s value streams and inspired a hyper-agile continuous improvement culture. The second showed the importance of treating citizen development as a product with its own long-term adoption lifecycle — and the critical role of mentorship.

The third case study, published today, is the most significant of the trilogy: It documents how one of the world’s great companies has thus far scaled its citizen developer strategy to over 4,000 employees all over the world. Shell’s “DIY” program is a cornerstone of the firm’s digital transformation, and there are clear lessons to learn from its example:

  • Take citizen development seriously. Shell’s CIO personally approved the DIY program and appointed a dedicated VP to lead it. The business results (hard and significant) were tracked. A dedicated CoE (itself a microcosm of serious IT roles) was established within the digital engineering function to support the program. And now, DIY is a part of the firm’s annual IT budgeting cycle, with formal goals for the program assigned to all levels of IT, including the CIO himself. The democratization of development is not a passing fad or the naive fantasy of industry talking heads — it is serious business and represents the future of enterprise technology work. Shell gets it.
  • Nurture communities of practice. The DIY program was not forced on business units or “rolled out” in the typical corporate sense. Instead, the strategy was to “go where the energy is,” partner with willing business areas and participants, and build local communities of practice. Boot camps, hackathons, and ongoing training events are provided to help mature these communities and increase their autonomy. Volunteer “DIY coaches” — distributed throughout the company — form the lifeblood of the program, acting as local mentors and leaders. The importance of this human element to the strategy’s success is abundantly clear.
  • Govern pragmatically. The foundation of Shell’s governance strategy is a three-zone system of different process requirements based on a specific application’s complexity and risk. Apps in the green “full DIY” zone mean the citizen developer is responsible for the entire app lifecycle; apps in the amber “partnered DIY” zone require formal assistance and oversight from a DIY coach; and large, risky apps in the red “professional development” zone are reserved for IT-led development only. This basic idea of distinguishing between use cases is a critical governance principle, and Shell manages this system through a mix of training, audits, and (importantly) automation.

Researching and documenting these case studies has been the most enjoyable work I’ve done as a Forrester analyst. I encourage our clients to read all three of them — the Shell story in particular. I believe that it provides a clear window — and the beginnings of a clear path — into the realistic future of enterprise technology.