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2 Ways to Bridge the Gap Between Developers and Business Users

Michelle Gardner, Appian
July 15, 2021

The best applications emerge when business users and developers work together. But that’s notoriously difficult on both sides. For business users, it’s hard to know what features you need until you see them coming to life. And for developers, it’s hard to build the perfect solution if you haven’t lived through the problem.

These problems are exacerbated in traditional high-code development approaches. Typically, business analysts act as translators between business users and technology teams. The two domains are siloed from each other—which means the people experiencing the problem are separated from those most equipped to solve it: developers. Developers attempting to fully grok the problem are stymied by low-fidelity communication channels (e.g., email), imperfect translators, latency, overreliance on documentation, and, most damaging of all, no access to end users.

Fortunately, there are a couple simple ways to bridge the gap between developers and business users.


1. Define the right problem with a deep understanding of your users.

IT teams should never take business users’ requirements at face value. Foster a culture of asking open-ended questions: Instead of “Is compliance an issue?” ask “What happens if compliance is not met?”

Encourage developers to probe deeper, ask “Why?,” and discover nonlinear solutions. This starts during project initiation—often called Sprint 0—with collaborative sessions that include IT, business sponsors, and end users. Work together to define goals, explore what the application must do to reach those goals, and map out a plan to deliver a valuable product. The intent is not to define every detail of your project, but to plan well enough that you start off in the right direction.

Talk to business users about these five key areas:

  • Vision: What do you want to achieve with the application?
  • Stakeholders: Which end users and other stakeholders will benefit?
  • Needs: What is the problem or need the application must address? What are the pain points, bottlenecks, and desired benefits?
  • Application: What are the must-have functions and features? Why are they must-haves? Is there a causal chain connecting the feature to a measurable business goal?
  • Business Goals: What are the measurable business goals, in order of priority?

Also remember to assess your users’ current states. Because your new application will change the way they work, you need to understand what your stakeholders want to do and what’s standing in their way. The best way to do this is by “walking the floor” with real users, watching them work in their daily lives. If that’s not possible, ask users to describe their day-to-day processes, focusing on why they perform each activity and what their biggest pain points are in the process.

2. Maintain fast, ongoing, and clear feedback.

With traditional development practices, feedback loops are like a ferry travelling between two shores. Business users are on one side, and the developers building the application are on the other. You ferry information back and forth slowly, in a high-latency process that risks a lot of distortion.

Instead of ferrying feedback back and forth, look for solutions and processes that build a bridge between developers and business users. For instance, low-code platforms make collaboration easy and encourage clear, frequent input, which helps you test assumptions along the way to finding the right solution.

Increased collaboration and iterative development also help you get early buy-in from stakeholders. Rather than development happening in a silo and all the value coming at the end of a project, end users can validate and influence the application as it takes shape before their eyes. Prototypes and in-progress builds give users something concrete to react to, accelerating the design process by ensuring your development team has a clear understanding of what’s needed.


Common Application Development Pitfalls

The best low-code platforms help IT teams optimize their collaboration with end users while delivering better functionality with more versatile, nimble development teams. But if you’re running low-code projects with high-code approaches, you’re only scratching the surface of low-code’s potential.

To see the full power of low-code, trade outdated, bloated development approaches for some key agile practices. Find out what the four most common pitfalls of low-code application development are and how you can combat them in the new eBook: 4 Pitfalls of Low-Code Application Development.