5 Low-Code Best Practices for Leaders

Author: Justin Watts, Managing Director, Appian Solutions, Groundswell

Use these strategies to help your teams and organization get maximum value from low-code tools.

Whether you’re new to low-code tools and platforms, or you’ve been working with low-code for some time, you want to optimize results. How can I get more out of my low-code platform? What can I do to maximize my return on investment, accelerate my success, and build positive customer outcomes faster?

Low-code platforms inherently mean you can start your journey to success quickly, but without equipping yourself with the right tools, you can only take that journey so far. Consider a hiker: Putting on good shoes immediately helps her on slippery terrain, but that alone won’t get her to the top of Mt. Everest. She’ll need a map, good teammates, and other necessities in order to take on the bigger challenges.

The same goes for low-code and its benefits for your business: if you want faster delivery and more successful outcomes for you and your customers, you need smart planning and logistics. Consider these five low-code best practices to get the most from your low code platform.

[ Learn more about low-code platforms and get a framework to evaluate tools. Read our eBook: The Ultimate Low-Code Buyer’s Guide. ]

1. Define the organization's rules of the road.

It is easy to develop with low-code, but that ease of use can get an organization into trouble unless you establish some rules of the road for teams. Consistency within your program reduces risks via the application of best practices and lessons learned, and accelerates delivery through clear guidance and operating procedure. A few basic guidelines to consider:

  • Establish naming conventions.
    As your platform grows in use, so does your artifact library. Having a jumbled mess of components of varying names and locations is a recipe for disaster. By applying simple taxonomy consistently across your applications, it is much easier to get up to speed on applications created by others. This improves maintenance, and gives you more flexibility in resource management by reducing the need for single points of failure in the form of application SMEs.
  • Develop best practice documentation and checklists.
    While many low-code vendors publish baseline best practices, they won’t always account for all of the characteristics of your specific architecture or business. So, extend those into your own supplemental checklists and templates. For example, if you work within a highly regulated industry, you might need a code review list to verify that protected classes of data are handled appropriately.
  • Establish governance.
    All the checklists and standards in the world won’t help if you don’t audit and enforce their application. Whether you implement a basic community of practice, or use a more formal model, you should consistently review and socialize your development processes, monitor compliance, and mature them over time as your situation and needs evolve. Process paired with accountability ensures everyone benefits from lessons learned within the organization, while delivering products that are in line with expectations for scalability, security, and organizational compliance.
  • No matter which steps you take, your goal should be all parties playing by the same rules.  Consistency is key!

    2. Take a platform mindset.

    Within a single environment, it's easy to create many applications of varying complexity with low-code. However, if you build these applications without a game plan, you might look back and realize you’ve built many apps overlapping in functionality, wasting lots of time and money. To avoid this, view your low-code program not as single applications, but as a platform where synergies between applications drive ever-increasing value.

    Start by building a holistic roadmap where you outline your program goals, with a focus on identifying dependencies and key needs. You can now see how programs fit together in terms of functionality, resources, or business value. By bumping programs to the front of the queue, you might be able to accelerate downstream projects. 

    Let’s take the example of a human resources initiative at your company. Applications like performance reviews or compliance management all touch an employee record. Built separately, you might end up with duplicative processes and data. Instead, build those central components first, allowing subsequent applications to re-use that work, resulting in cleaner integration, faster delivery, and better user experience.

    A well-considered plan leads to the strongest foundation. The stronger your foundation, the more applications you can deploy. Value accelerates constantly as your platform provides more services and capability for future applications.

    3. Leverage accelerators and pre-built solutions.

    Speaking of acceleration, one great aspect of low-code is the ability to create and share modules for common use cases. While the concept of shared software libraries isn’t new, implementation of these patterns within a low-code platform can mean easy plug and play into your environment. That’s true for anything from a pre-built integration with a third party system or example UI components, all the way to fully implemented functional use cases, like project management, HR onboarding, and more.

    Your team can leverage existing work to overcome technical hurdles or even shave weeks or months off of an implementation schedule. And of course, low-code components prove easier than custom code to understand and extend to your specific needs, and promote through your deployment pipeline.

    The great news is you probably don’t have to scour the internet to locate good accelerators: low-code vendors and their implementation partners often create and publish these on a centralized community application market for convenient discovery and download.

    [ Want to collaborate with your low-code peers? Check out Appian Community Edition. ]

    As your low-code program matures, you can even take this concept a step further and build a sharing mechanism for your own teams via your governance function or a central code repository like GitHub.

    Regardless of whether you work with external or internal accelerators, the related cost savings help you do more with less resources, gain added capacity for other work, and deploy faster to respond to changing business or regulatory needs.

    4. Develop non-traditional teams.

    Perhaps you recognize the power and speed of low-code and have a great backlog of ideas, but worry about how to find enough staff to support projects in a timely manner. With low-code, the IT staffing rules change. You can say goodbye to needing a dozen highly skilled engineers with 20 years of experience in order to execute a project. Instead, low-code lets you supplement your resource pool with non-traditional developers from various backgrounds. After all, low-code has a much lower barrier to entry than traditional coding tools.

    That accessibility to coding, paired with vendor-created training programs, helps individuals and teams learn quickly. In turn, teams can increase development velocity much faster than with traditional software.

    Further, many vendors also provide learning tracks paired with multiple certification levels, so you can approach education in a structured way. This also helps you objectively categorize your staff by skill level or competency, which allows for better roadmap planning and flexibility in staffing decisions.

    5. Embrace low-code strengths.

    This last tip may at first seem obvious, but given its nuance, bears repeating: embrace your low-code platform’s strengths.

    Let me explain: Too often, an organization wants to use their new shiny low-code product for every new project. It makes sense that you'd want to maximize your investment through frequent usage, right? With all of the great built-in features for functionality, security, performance, etc., why wouldn't you?

    However, if you use low-code in instances where it isn't the best fit, you might end up in a situation where you can’t fully meet your stakeholder requirements. Or, you might have to hack together or customize a product, leading to unmaintainable, unstable, and/or unsupported code. By attacking the wrong problems with low-code, you could take away resources from where they could give you more value.

    This is not to say low-code is inflexible and is only applicable to a few situations - the opposite is true! However, before you take on a new project or an enhancement to an existing one, do a fit check to make sure your needs line up with platform capabilities. For example, low-code works well for transactional reporting. When you have complex data visualization requirements, for example, seek out an assessment tool from your vendor, to make sure your choice fits your use cases.

    If necessary, either work with stakeholders to adjust requirements to better fit your platform capabilities (i.e., avoid custom code) or consider if an alternative tool might be more appropriate for the entire project. To get you started, some vendors even publish “selecting a good project” checklists that can help you make the right decisions for your program.

    In simplest terms, use low-code for what it's good at.

    Low-code best practices increase your returns.

    These five best practices add strength to your arsenal as you take the next steps on your low-code journey. Focus on standardization, cross-team communication and planning, and process governance. That will help you deliver more consistently, identify risks and areas of improvement, and continue to realize more and more value from your platform.

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Date: December 20, 2022

Justin Watts

Managing Director, Appian Solutions, Groundswell

Justin Watts has been working in the technology space for 15 years, specializing in enterprise-scale low-code solutions. At Groundswell, Justin oversees the enablement of the Appian practice through tooling, training, and solution development. Prior to Groundswell, Justin worked in Appian’s Public Sector services team as a Director of Architect and as a member of the Appian Center of Excellence.

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Low-Code development is the way to build apps more quickly by reducing the need to code.