Internal biases towards legacy tools and practices by organisations hinder the adoption (as distinct from implementation) of low-code platforms and approaches to speeding up the development of digital processes.
To realise the potential benefits of low-code implementation, organisations must:
- Establish an organisation-wide mindset of continually looking for processes that can be automated or eliminated.
- Engage in iterative, small but high-volume digitisation of processes using low-code tools.
IBRS calls this mind-set the low-code culture. It is more than simply encouraging staff (aka citizen developers) to use forms-builders. It is a culture where everyone is responsible for looking at how the organisation functions and asking themselves, how do we do this better? It is aligned with Edward Deming’s 14 Points Model (see table 1) for implementing continuous improvement, though applied to services both within and external to an organisation.
Why ICT Departments Resist the Low-Code Culture, Even While Adopting Low-Code Tools
Many organisations that IBRS consults with are reviewing or have implemented low-code tools sporadically in their organisation, but remain undecided as to whether low-code will be an essential component in the overall ICT architecture1, and a pillar of their digital transformation strategy. Reasons for this reluctance include:
- Lack of transfer control of the low-code objectives to enterprise stakeholders because of overlaying traditional ICT governance or project management practices.
- Adoption of too many low-code platforms that become a source of complexity among citizen developers and even professional developers.
- Lack of policies and training programs in place that turn low-code platforms into a major shadow IT category.
- Low visibility by the IT department on how low-code solutions in the enterprise can be expanded.
Characteristics of a Low-Code Culture
Organisations that gain the greatest benefit from low-code implementation make staff the owners of the low-code technology and development. They empower all units (especially non-IT roles in marketing, procurement, finance, customer service, and legal teams) to be fully engaged in the exploring, testing, and utilising low-code tools to automate workflows, improve user interfaces, and automate business functions, even when this means reducing or eliminating their own day-to-day work activities.
Applications developed through low-code are best accomplished by agile teams that benefit from better iterations and improved feedback. In addition, a successful, low-code enterprise has its IT executive team set a viable and sustainable, low-code tech adoption strategy that promotes inter-department collaboration, supportive learning environment, and efficient data governance.
Finally, the drive towards wider, low-code platform use among more members of the organisation does not compromise the technology’s scalability, security, and compatibility on multiple devices and operating systems when leveraging its functionalities and visual modelling features. A low-code culture uses such a platform to align its goals with that of the IT department in addressing the burden among professional developers, who need to cater to many requests that result in backlogs.
Creating a Low-Code Culture in Your Organisation
1. Establish a Citizen Developer Mindset in the Organisation
Executive teams must encourage citizen developers within the organisation. They can do this by supporting the broad deployment of a low-code platform that does not require specialised technical knowledge, and by providing sufficient time and incentives for staff to learn and experiment with the platform. It is not enough for the platform to be available – the use of the platform must be modelled, promoted, and rewarded. By estimating the benefits of low-code – such as raising productivity and having ownership of creation and maintenance of small applications – staff will be more encouraged to incorporate their expertise into the design and realisation of new applications.
With IT teams’ workload being reduced due to fewer demands for creating what they often see as niche solutions, they can instead focus on more complex projects, and offer support for more utilisation of low-code tools among citizen developers.
2. Establish a Centre of Excellence (CoE)
The IT team must be involved all throughout the roadmap of shifting to a low-code culture, from selecting the most appropriate platform (or platforms) to working with business executives to establish governance and risk mitigation policies. The IT team needs to engage with motivated citizen developers, ensuring sufficient visibility when enabling citizen developers during the transition from a traditional IT-first governance model to one that supports greater innovation and experimentation (though avoid phrasing around accepting failure, etc.). Use the CoE to communicate and align low-code activities across the organisation, and implement a formal review process to identify lessons for a long-term low-code approach. Use the Deming 14 model as a template for the CoE’s setup and objectives.
3. Train Teams in the Optimisation of Low-Code Tools
By training non-professional developers to optimise their use of the low-code platform, the CoE can encourage staff to seek new ways to improve their operations. The training must guide citizen developers on a smooth transition along the spectrum of development capabilities that will support their performance in the workplace.
4. Implement Low-Code Governance Policies
Low-code governance policies are needed to keep track of what apps employees are developing, increase data visibility to avoid siloed and departmentally-isolated data, and minimise security and privacy risks. In addition, low-code governance guidelines also cover low-code frameworks, what types of solutions each framework is best suited for, and what access and admin controls are needed with regard to the code and data repositories. A clearly-documented, low-code governance policy will help ensure a smooth transition to a low-code culture, and the uptake of low-code platform(s) by citizen developers.
5. Streamline the Review and Approval Process
To speed up the application delivery cycle, the CoE team must approve low-code application projects only after following a careful review of the project’s alignment with the goals, quality, documentation, and security risk. This is to ensure that the review and approval process does not discourage more citizen developers from demonstrating their expertise in their roles, and exploring more avenues where low-code development can be of value to the organisation.
6. Collaborate with Citizen Developers to Drive Continuous Innovation
Finally, the organisation should ensure continuous innovation among citizen developers through consistent collaboration with the CoE team. By ensuring efficient oversight, accountability, and transparency, the organisation will be driven to develop more proof-of-concept applications that address gaps in enterprise operations, customer service, and misalignment between IT and non-IT priorities to drive scalable low-code models across different units and roles.
- Start Planning a Transition to a Low-Code Culture: Review Deming’s 14 Points model and adapt it to your organisation’s context. Use this as the basis for developing a low-code culture within your organisation. Understand that this cannot be a technology-led initiative, but is a shift in overall mindset for staff. It needs to be led from the top.
- Establish a Low-Code CoE: Create a CoE that will be responsible for establishing the governance required for your organisation, the skilling of staff, implementing an ideation framework and the promotion of low-code.
- Promote the Low-Code Rockstars: It is also essential for organisations to identify citizen developers that excel in application development by providing them with more training, skills transfer and better collaboration with professional developers to provide them with more control over the platform within IT governance limits.
- Monitor the Evolution of the Low-Code Market: IBRS predicts that large vendors will continue acquiring today’s most successful low-code platform companies until 2025, based on its recently conducted market scan on low-code vendor trends. In this regard, the CoE team must remain proactive when considering the greater ecosystem of low-code tools that will meet their long-term needs.
- Look to Automate with Artificial Intelligence (AI): Finally, the CoE team must continue to look into how AI can be best leveraged to make recommendations on improving workflow with low-code development platforms to realise its transformative potential in creating fully-functional platforms in the workplace.
Table 1: Deming’s 14 Points for Continual Improvement
Create a constant purpose toward improvement:
- Plan for quality in the long term.
- Resist reacting with short-term solutions.
- Don’t just do the same things better – find better things to do.
- Predict and prepare for future challenges, and always have the goal of getting better.
Adopt the new philosophy:
- Embrace quality throughout the organisation.
- Put your customers’ needs first, rather than react to competitive pressure – and design products and services to meet those needs.
- Be prepared for a major change in the way business is done. It’s about leading, not simply managing.
- Create your quality vision, and implement it.
Stop depending on inspections:
- Inspections are costly and unreliable – and they don’t improve quality, they merely find a lack of quality.
- Build quality into the process from start to finish.
- Don’t just find what you did wrong – eliminate the wrongs altogether.
- Use statistical control methods – not physical inspections alone – to prove that the process is working.
Use a single supplier for any one item:
- Quality relies on consistency – the less variation you have in the input, the less variation you’ll have in the output.
- Look at suppliers as your partners in quality. Encourage them to spend time improving their own quality – they shouldn’t compete for your business based on price alone.
- Analyse the total cost to you, not just the initial cost of the product.
- Use quality statistics to ensure that suppliers meet your quality standards.
Improve constantly and forever:
- Continuously improve your systems and processes. Deming promoted the Plan-Do-Check-Act approach to process analysis and improvement.
- Emphasise training and education so everyone can do their jobs better.
- Use Kaizen as a model to reduce waste and to improve productivity, effectiveness, and safety.
Use training on the job:
- Train for consistency to help reduce variation.
- Build a foundation of common knowledge.
- Allow workers to understand their roles in the big picture.
- Encourage staff to learn from one another, and provide a culture and environment for effective teamwork.
- Expect your supervisors and managers to understand their workers and the processes they use.
- Don’t simply supervise – provide support and resources so that each staff member can do his or her best. Be a coach instead of a policeman.
- Figure out what each person actually needs to do his or her best.
- Emphasise the importance of participative management and transformational leadership.
- Find ways to reach full potential, and don’t just focus on meeting targets and quotas.
- Allow people to perform at their best by ensuring that they’re not afraid to express ideas or concerns.
- Let everyone know that the goal is to achieve high quality by doing more things right – and that you’re not interested in blaming people when mistakes happen.
- Make workers feel valued, and encourage them to look for better ways to do things.
- Ensure that your leaders are approachable and that they work with teams to act in the company’s best interests.
- Use open and honest communication to remove fear from the organisation.
Break down barriers between departments:
- Build the internal customer concept – recognise that each department or function serves other departments that use their output.
- Build a shared vision.
- Use cross-functional teamwork to build understanding and reduce adversarial relationships.
- Focus on collaboration and consensus instead of compromise.
Get rid of unclear slogans:
- Let people know exactly what you want – don’t make them guess. Excellence in service is short and memorable, but what does it mean? How is it achieved? The message is clearer in a slogan like: You can do better if you try.
- Don’t let words and nice-sounding phrases replace effective leadership. Outline your expectations, and then praise people face-to-face for doing good work.
Eliminate management by objectives:
- Look at how the process is carried out, not just numerical targets. Deming said that production targets encourage high output and low quality.
- Provide support and resources so that production levels and quality are high and achievable.
- Measure the process rather than the people behind the process.
Remove barriers to pride of workmanship:
- Allow everyone to take pride in their work without being rated or coerced.
- Treat workers the same, and don’t make them compete with other workers for monetary or other rewards. Over time, the quality system will naturally raise the level of everyone’s work to an equally high level.
Implement education and self-improvement:
- Improve the current skills of workers.
- Encourage people to learn new skills to prepare for future changes and challenges.
- Build skills to make your workforce more adaptable to change, and better able to find and achieve improvements.
Make transformation everyone’s job:
- Improve your overall organisation by having each person take a step toward quality.
- Analyse each small step, and understand how it fits into the larger picture.
- Use effective change management principles to introduce the new philosophy and ideas in Deming’s 14 points.
Source: ‘Encyclopaedia of Corporate Social Responsibility’, Deming’s 14 Points Model, Sitnikov C. S., 2013.
- IBRS refers to low-code everywhere as a fundamental component of Fourth Wave ICT. See ‘Trends for 2021–2026: No New Normal and Preparing for the Fourth-Wave of ICT,’ IBRS, 2021.