Autonomy with Guardrails: Working Through Skilled Labor Shortages

Even with a currently robust labor market, organizations across industries and the world are facing developer shortages. Increasing technology needs means enterprises need talent, but when there’s not enough talent, organizations spend more to attract and retain. They also have to put more on the shoulders of their teams. And with many industries having more skilled job openings than there are candidates to fill them, and skill shortages in cybersecurity, cloud, and agile development, options can feel limited.

It’s a cycle that hurts budgets and your ability to innovate and execute.

The challenge then becomes creating some headspace throughout both business and IT, allowing for impactful projects to bring business value, open innovation, and address today’s and tomorrow’s problems.

If only it were so simple.

Solve the problem, not the symptoms

To figure out where the answers are, let’s start with where they aren’t.

Mass hiring

One way to fill a skills gap is by bringing in people with skills. But that doesn’t get to why this skills gap exists. And as evidenced in tech organizations of all sizes, getting to the ideal team size is challenging. On top of that, getting to the right mix of talent is an additional challenge.


Upskilling your employee base is, of course, critical and not to be ignored. But that also doesn’t solve the heart of the issue, which is the “why” you’re facing a skills and talent gap.

Empowering everyone to build

Face it. Your staff is likely already building their own solutions, regardless of whether you’ve given them the autonomy to do so. Analysts put shadow IT spending in large enterprises around 40%! And opening this door indeed allows for more things to be built. It also empowers employees across the business to be part of a solution. But consider the risks:

  1. When everyone builds their own solutions, it flies in the face of collaborative working. Where is your governance? Who’s looking at your tech stack as a whole?
  2. As soon as needs go beyond what an employee can do on their own, you’re looking at things like budget discussions, business plans, and potentially bringing in more technology. In other words, you’re back where you started.
  3. When everyone has the power to self-solve, you risk a lack of oversight, a lack of strategic direction, and a fragmented landscape. That’s not a formula that leads to long-term success.

Allowing your talent to think creatively is fantastic! But a business building solutions this way leads to a permissionless group of technologists building short-term solutions that don’t create long-term value. Remember, we’re trying to help bridge a skills and talent gap, not create an entirely new problem.

What’s needed is a way to empower teams but also give them a path to ensure total business success.

Rationalized decisions=Better business

Orgs need to be better able to make more decisions and empower innovative thinking throughout the business.

Tap your subject experts for their thoughts and ideas, not with the idea that they can go and build whatever they want, but with the plan that those ideas can shape your development roadmap.

Make it easy and frictionless for them, but with the guidance and guardrails that help ensure they’re moving in the right direction. Small successes evolve into bigger ones.

This could be a layer of abstraction on top of your dev platforms that help manage organizational collaboration, structure, and creativity.

How could that work in reality? Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Ideation portals: This can be a system or a process for employees to build out and test ideas. If employees can prove a threshold of ROI, make it happen! Add some fun and transparency to it. Think Shark Tank or Dragon’s Den, perhaps.
  • Sandboxes: Bring together parts of the business and IT throughout the year. Split them into teams, give them a theme, and see what happens. These mini-projects build the collaboration muscles, and you can take the best of these projects and put them into action.

And to turn those plans into a product, look at fusion teams. These open development to the business and lessen the burden on your full-time developers while still providing invaluable business outcomes.

Now you can get more done without overextending while still allowing for control and innovation. Your employees get a sense of ownership and can get the right question into the right people’s hands.

Success starts with commitment

You can choose whatever platform you like for execution, but make sure it’s flexible and robust enough to handle pro- and non-pro devs, as well as a variety of business needs. I may be a bit biased toward low-code, but it’s ideally suited for these sorts of cases.

Many of the greatest successes we see at Mendix are from customers that use the platform not to solve one problem but many across the enterprise.

The real tipping point here isn’t anything super high-minded, but it is critical: Commitment. The worst thing an enterprise can do is set up a process like this and then let it fade away after a quarter or a failure.

This sort of movement requires buy-in from the top down. That doesn’t mean that you can’t iterate and change the process to suit your needs, but it needs to be there, evolving and transparent. Your employees recognize when these opportunities come and go.

Celebrate every success and every step of progress. Success breeds further success.

A focus on what matters most

The keys to working through a skills shortage are pretty simple when you boil it down. Empower your people and put the right tools around them. That’s how you maximize resources and budget and get more done.

The complicated bit is execution, but if you can focus on solutions that the business needs and getting the most out of resources, you’ll be headed in the right direction.