I recently became aware of an interesting concept in psychology called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, and Citizen Developers came to my mind. What the hell am I talking about now? Read on to find out.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect
Essentially the Dunning-Kruger effect is one’s own perception of their reality. Often displayed as the following image:
For those of you who are listening to this, instead of reading it, I will describe the image. On the vertical axis is confidence level, from low to high. On the horizontal axis is Competence level, from “Know Nothing” to “Guru”.
It seems that many people, who know nothing, can have high confidence of their knowledge in spite of that fact that they… well… know nothing. In the Dunning-Kruger model this places these people at the peak of “Mt. Stupid”. I am very familiar with that particular peak have spent my early 20’s there. Following the peak of Mt. Stupid, is the Valley of Despair, where one realizes that they actually know… well… nothing, and their confidence plummets. From there, they travel the “Slope of Enlightenment” back up, slowly, until they reach the “Plateau of Sustainability”, or actual Guru level. This assumes they remain on the “Slope of Enlightenment” long enough.
Almost every other day, I am on the phone with Citizen Developers at various stages of this model. Like all of the low-code platforms, the Power Platform’s primary goal is to “enable” Citizen Developers. Unfortunately, all of the Low-Code platforms, including the Power Platform, present themselves in such a way as to give a person who “Knows Nothing” very high “Confidence”. Thus, marching them Pied Piper style to the peak of Mt. Stupid. I have spoken to Citizens with this high confidence, aka “Cocky”, and after about 30 minutes of conversation. aka “Enlightenment”, have unintentionally knocked them off the peak and into that valley. Well… not the really cocky ones.
Riding the Slope
I have been involved with Business Applications for over 20 years and still feel firmly on the “Slope of Enlightenment”. Whenever a platform, in my case Microsoft, adds a slew of new capabilities, that “Plateau of Enlightenment” just moves farther out. The best that the most knowledgeable and experienced of us can hope for, is to remain on the Slope… indefinitely. When a “Citizen Developer” thinks they are as capable as one who has been on the Slope for 5-10 or 20 years, they are clearly straddling the peak of Mt. Stupid. While I am not easily impressed by your Power App, I am professional enough to not laugh out loud at your feeble effort, since I understand, sitting on the Peak, you are quite proud of your accomplishment.
Circumventing the Peak
In my experience, this idea will be harder for men than for women, because it requires reading directions. But if you want to bypass the Peak, start at the Valley. Since you would not have gone to the Peak in the first place, the Valley is not one of despair, but rather the beginning of your journey on the Slope. If you want to do this right, and many say they do, but actually don’t, then you need to invest the time. Do not fall for the over-confidence building marketing messaging from any low-code platform. Why?
25% is about the percentage of our practice’s work that is allocated to fixing things built by Mt. Stupid flag planters. I am reminded of a buddy of mine when I was a teenager. He thought he was a great mechanic, but every time he rebuilt something, like an engine, there was this odd pile of parts leftover. When asked about them he would say something like, “I’m not sure what those are, but they are definitely not needed”. As I recall, his vehicles were always on blocks, and I never saw him drive one.
A Fork in the Road
What many Citizens miss are the forks in the road. Some are obvious, and still the wrong one is taken, and many are not so obvious. Where this matters is down that road, when the clear realization that the wrong fork was taken becomes apparent. I’m not sure if any statistics exist, but I would assume the number of efforts that went the wrong way, and were then either abandoned in frustration, or taken all the way back to the fork, is quite high. The biggest thing that Mt. Stupid does not provide, is a clear view into the future. However, after a while on the Slope, the future becomes quite predictable.
Back to the Slope
The Slope of Enlightenment is vast, and as I said, even those of us with decades on it, are still climbing. So where does a Citizen even start? I can tell you where we start. First, before building anything, we create the data-model. Apps are pretty easy to change, but the data model will eventually expose any wrong forks taken, and these tend to be the most complex to reverse. Second is typically the UI, getting the data onto forms in a usable way… this is harder than it sounds if you take into account user friendliness vs. function. Lastly is automation, which seems to be the thing too many Citizens are way too eager to get to.
If this post sounds like I am bitch-slapping Citizens…. I’m not. I am fully cognizant of the movement, and it is actually not even a new movement. We still spend time unwinding Access databases built by tech savvy, but not business savvy Citizens of those days. I’m just suggesting that scaling Mt. Stupid does not give the same satisfaction as scaling Mt. Everest.