Growing an automation program is a big task in itself. Introducing citizen developers to an automation program adds a layer of complexity and often elicits feelings of trepidation for many automation leaders, so we understand why many are hesitant to take that journey. But it doesn’t have to be a scary endeavor, and there are many benefits to nurturing your own citizen developers. In fact, many of our Automation Anywhere MVPs came up in automation as citizen developers and now certified professional developers and leaders in the intelligent automation field!
In the recent quarterly meeting with our South-Central User Group, Vern Dickson, Senior Program Manager at Range Resources Corporation and Automation Anywhere MVP, shared his experience starting a new automation program exclusively with citizen developers from the start, as well as insightful tips from lessons he learned along the way. If you’ve ever given citizen developers a thought, or are perhaps in the thick of growing a citizen developer team—keep on reading to hear Vern’s valuable advice!
Benefits of Citizen Developers
Every organization has different ways and means of executing intelligent automation, so a citizen developer program may not be for everyone. But here are a few benefits Vern highlighted of having citizen developers on your automation team:
- Citizen developers possess in-depth knowledge of the inefficient processes that are crying out for automation. They can be a beneficial resource to leverage when you need to build up your pipeline or extend into new lines of business.
- Suppose your IT department is extremely busy and unable to take on development needs. Citizen developers can fill that development role without spending excessive time and money hiring a third-party partner and bringing them up to speed on your unique business needs, infrastructure, and procedures.
- If your organization is starting a brand, spanking new automation program, most—if not all—of your automation team members are likely starting from scratch. You might as well take this opportunity to onboard citizen developers as well. You’d be surprised how low the learning curve to train a citizen developer can be. Vern shared a story with us about one of their young accountants who watched a demo to build a process with Automation Anywhere, then went back to her desk and created an automation from scratch. She did not have any technical background and could pick up development skills that quickly!
Tips To Make Your Citizen Developers Successful
Five years into automating with citizen developers, Vern has taken note of a few things that make work easier and set his team up for success time and time again:
- A Technical Leader Leading the Citizen Developer Team: Someone with a strong technical background who understands the systems, what the team is trying to accomplish, what the challenges are, and how to overcome them.
- A Strong Automation Sponsor: Someone who will go to bat for you, your citizen developer team, and your program to help ensure you get the support you all need to succeed.
- Automation Anywhere Training plus Supplemental Internal Training Materials: Automation Anywhere has not only incredible training classes and tools through AAU but also a highly valuable blueprint to creating a citizen developer team through their Pathfinder Program’s Mission #6. Couple that with any internal training materials you might have or could create around systems, procedures, standards, and best practices to bolster their learning foundation.
- Engage a Third-Party for Developer Training, but Don’t Let Them Develop For You: This harkens back to the old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” This was an important sticking point for Vern with his team and he believes it’s given them the tools to be successful and know-how to support their automations.
- Follow the Same Change Management Processes as IT - This is an excellent best practice to ensure your citizen developers are following all regulations overseen by IT that your business requires.
- Leverage Automation Frameworks and Reusable Code - A top Automation Anywhere recommendation! Automation frameworks and reusable code help your citizen developers develop quicker with stable, reliable code foundations.
- Code reviews - Gathering everyone together to execute code reviews is an excellent learning experience. It helps reinforce code standards as your citizen developers are learning to code and develop resilient automations.
Splitting Time with Citizen Developers
For Vern and his automation team of 8 citizen developers, each one sits in their own department, splitting time between their “real” job and automation development work. This is not an uncommon structure for many of our customers and is part of the delicate balancing act when going the citizen development route. In these situations, citizen developers might inevitably be stretched thin between their daily workload and making time for automation development or support. Vern’s advice? If someone needs dedicated time to work on automations and isn’t finding the time to do it, he will communicate with their manager to try to find a balance on their behalf. He recommends you be conservative and don’t ask for too much so you can come to an agreement to receive at least some dedicated time for your citizen developer to complete development work until they are back in their usual balanced rhythm.
Challenges to Expect and How to Navigate Them
- Recruitment & Training: With every new citizen development class, Vern reported that he loses 50% of the class on average by the end of the training cycle. To be a citizen developer, not only does a person’s brain and thought process needs to understand development a certain way, but that person also needs time to dedicate to development. These two aspects can become deal breakers the deeper a candidate gets into citizen development training, which is perfectly okay, but something you should expect as you recruit and train new classes of potential citizen developers.
- Support & Maintenance of Existing Bots: It happens, folks—automations break for one reason or another. Many times, the reason automations break is out of your control, like application software or security updates. And the more automations you have in production, the more automations you have to stay on top of maintaining! These unexpected failures mean your citizen developers must find extra time to support and fix automations when needed. This presents a challenge that goes back to the previous section about your citizen developers splitting time with their primary job function. You should be prepared to support your team in whatever way possible as they support their automations.
Are there more challenges to be seen with citizen developers? Sure. But are there also more benefits than Vern has shed light on here? Absolutely! Training citizen developers can provide new capabilities and ways of thinking to employees who may feel stifled in their daily work. Logan Price, who is also an Automation Anywhere MVP and one of Vern’s citizen developers at Range Resources, shared with us, “Being a citizen developer has added an entirely new skill set to my toolbox, and I get to solve a range of different problems around the company. I also learned that I love systems, data, and automation!” If citizen development is something you’d like to try, we’re here to help!
Start by exploring our Automation Foundations Bot Camp playlist - it includes four weeks of courses (approximately an hour each week) to help you build the basic skills needed for automation success.