Key Takeaways from Shell's DIY Citizen Development Program

With increasing customer demands, shifting market conditions, business complexity, and competition, businesses need digital solutions. And they need to integrate with existing infrastructure to visualize clean data in real-time.

The global talent shortage of software engineers makes it nearly impossible for businesses to build those solutions. IT backlogs are extensive. Adding more tasks to their queue isn’t a viable solution.

The citizen development movement democratizes software development, extending developer capabilities beyond IT to tech-savvy business users trained on powerful low-code tools.

Still, digital transformations often fail.

To help you succeed, we show you how the energy company Shell built a successful citizen development program.

That way, you streamline workflows, gain data insights, and meet customer demands without burdening your IT team.

It Doesn’t Happen Overnight

Citizen development doesn’t just “happen.”

You need to create a plan that evaluates the risks and the business impact. You must also involve the right stakeholders from the start (IT, legal, compliance, security, business, etc.).

Shell started their Citizen Development “Do It Yourself” (DIY) program before the pandemic. It was an iterative process that took years to develop the systems, resources, and buy-in it has today.

Your citizen development program will move through phases and iterations. As with any process or program, it will evolve and increase in complexity over time.

Citizen Development Should Have a Clear Mission

The mission of Shell’s DIY program is to “empower every employee to digitize work processes to improve productivity, increase agility, and create more value for customers.”

That mission focuses on the program, making it easy for teams to align their actions to this common goal.

At the same time, digital transformation is about better data management.

As a global enterprise organization, Shell sits on a data lake with trillions of data rows. They manage thousands of equipment across hundreds of sites with over 80,000 employees.

Your citizen development program needs to align with capturing the critical data in your organization so you can better serve your customer.

Standardized Processes Scale Results

If you want to drive scalable change in your organization, you need standardized processes.

It’s one thing for a single citizen developer to create a simple solution to a workflow. However, you need a consistent way to scale development and implementation across your business to impact organizational change.

Without that, your citizen developers will exacerbate problems by creating multiple siloed solutions.

Normalize the Citizen Development Program

Shell rolled out its citizen development program through four stages:

  1. Sense-Making: Evaluating the efficacy of existing processes for achieving digital transformation.
  2. Stakeholder Participation: Getting stakeholders to see how digital solutions can help them achieve their goals.
  3. Collective Action: Teams embracing and carrying out the work necessary to transform processes.
  4. Evaluating Progress: Reviewing actions (both formally and informally) teams take to improve processes and measure digital solutions' impact.

This process helped normalize citizen development, improving change adoption and reducing friction.

They also established a community-based CoE model to empower and inspire creativity among their citizen developers.

The CoE ensures the team delivers business value (cost reduction, process efficiency, customer satisfaction, etc.). As a result, the executive team can see a clear ROI from the program and continue to value its existence.

Citizen Development Requires Upskilling

Your employees must upskill beyond their current business skills to become citizen developers. In short, they must understand low-code/no-code platforms (LCNC), data sources, IT frameworks, and their role in supporting digital transformations.

Shell doesn’t hire specifically for Citizen Development roles. Instead, they lean on existing business users and their experience to create solutions. Recently (due to the program’s size and success), they hired Citizen Development Coaches who work exclusively with their citizen development team to improve application development.

While the DIY program is optional for employees, Shell provides a range of training (mandatory and optional) and resources for their citizen developers.

They set up a self-service portal, communities, and resources.

They have two mandatory training sessions (DIY Passport Learning and Visa Learning Path). This training explains the fundamentals of Citizen Development, the toolset, and compliance guidelines.

They also enrolled in courses to provide additional training.

Shell hosts training events (boot camps, hackathons, etc.) to give citizen developers more hands-on experience. Their “Hive Hackathon” had 243 participants, leading to the creation of an app that delivered $400,000 in immediate savings ($1.8M overall). Shell even hosted a “Shark Tank” event to gamify the process of pitching solutions to management.

IT teams also use LCNC regularly, so developers can work with citizen developers to provide ongoing support.

Flexibility Is Critical

Citizen development can take time to launch and build momentum at the start. Technology is also rapidly changing space.

As such, leadership needs to be flexible initially and as the program develops. They need to understand the program will change directions as it adapts to your organization's needs.

Citizen development follows agile development practices. Continuous improvement is key to its success. They prioritize individuals and interactions, working software, customer collaboration, and responding to change to drive success.

Start Small and Grow

Shell is a global company with over 80,000 people. Initially, they piloted a small version of their citizen development program.

Over two years, their citizen development program transformed into 32 communities with 170 DIY coaches. Their team delivers 188 boot camps that have trained 6,500 developers and 4,000 employees.

As Shell continues to evolve, they’re seeking tech-savvy employees with a digital mindset and looking to train existing employees on citizen development.

You Need Buy-In at All Levels

Citizen Development requires a significant investment in tools, time, training, and disruption. To succeed, you need support from leadership and teams.

Shell’s executive team supported the launch of the DIY program because program owners positioned citizen development. Technology leaders in the organization understood the value of digital transformations and the limitations caused by talent shortages.

This positioned the program as a way of driving digital transformation by leveraging existing organizational skill sets.

As a result, program leaders reduced team tensions (specifically among developers concerned with losing their jobs). Instead, developers and executives saw citizen development as a way to scale output rather than replace workers.

Program leaders also focused on the practical benefits of citizen development. It can mainly improve workflows, automate manual processes, improve customer/employee satisfaction, enhance data accuracy/visualization, and improve collaboration.

Decide on the Tools

With so many LCNC tools on the market, Shell needed to select the ones that best fit the needs of their organization.

To begin, the team created a process for evaluating LCNC tools. For example, they looked at integration capabilities, cloud service support, data visualization, automation capabilities, tool evolution, and other factors to determine whether or not the tool could meet demands.

Afterward, they evaluated the LCNC as they would any other tool. Specifically, they followed existing budget, planning, architectural, and portfolio steps for IT approval and adoption.

New tools must follow the same process and fit into the DIY framework with IT and executive support.

Clear Guardrails and Risk Assessment Is Essential

Shell developed clear risk assessments and clear guardrails for application development to encourage innovation among citizen developers while protecting them and the organization.

Their DIY Zoning Model uses a traffic light system to determine the risk and complexity of application development projects:

  1. Green (Full DIY): Anyone can develop solutions.
  2. Amber (Partnered DIY): Developers must collaborate with specialists or upskill into departments before building solutions.
  3. Red (Professional Development): Only professional developers can create apps for these business areas

. Additionally, Shell created a checklist for citizen developers to review when considering application development and carrying out the development.

Communicate ROI

As with any business program, leadership needs to understand the potential ROI. This means collecting baseline data, tracking investment, and evaluating the overall impact on the business.

At Shell, Citizen Development has saved the company millions of dollars in cost reduction, workflow efficiency, safety enhancement, and other value-adds.

Teams are enthusiastic about the program as it empowers them to drive results while removing inefficiencies they found frustrating. Leadership also sees a clear return, driving further investment to unlock more value from citizen development at Shell.