Custom Software Development is dead

Haven’t you heard? Custom Software Development is dead. No one should have any reason to do Custom Software Development unless you are building a product to resell to clients. The creation of a novel solution created to address a specific client or problem is definitely passé.

Custom Software Development is much too risky. It is much less risky to take an existing product that has been created by an established vendor and just configure it to fit your needs. This is far less risky and quicker.

Custom Software Development is too costly. With our expert outsourced development team in some far way land, we can quickly develop software with inexpensive resources that will do everything you require.

Sound Familiar?

The truth is that Custom Software Development is not dead. Custom Software Development just needs to hire better marketing. For the longest time the product vendors have been selling Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt about Custom Software Development.

To be honest, the really bad stories of projects going wrong are usually about product implementations. I mean the really bad ones. Not the 100% over budget ones, but the 300%-400% over budget ones with overruns of 10’s of Millions of dollars are usually always product implementations.

Most importantly, all the really terrible experiences of client satisfaction are with product implementations. Although Custom Software Development projects can have schedule and budget issues, I rarely hear that the Custom Software Solution doesn’t meet their needs. (When I say rare I mean like never)


So why do corporations continue to choose products instead of Custom Software Development? I believe it comes down to four reasons:

1) Corporations place less emphasis on a solution meeting their client’s needs than meeting the budget – This is a sad to say, but the real focus is on delighting the accountants and not the end users and clients. If I had a nickel every time I heard the phrase ‘good enough’ on a product implementation project, I’d be sunning myself on a private island in the Caribbean.

2) Product companies avoid getting into detailed requirements until after the initial sale – This is probably the biggest reason behind product selection. Early on the discussion are high level and it appears that the product is a 70-80% match of requirements. The decision is made to proceed and it is agreed that we will flesh out the detailed requirements during the project. Then during the project, you determine that there is only a 20-30% fit and more extensive work is required. Once that is determined it is far too late to change the approach.

3) Existing Products have inherent credibility and confidence – When faced with questions from boards and executives, the use of a product that is known in the marketplace does provide confidence. It also doesn’t hurt to say to executives you are offshoring development to save money. Both of these facts appeal to our human tendencies to never buy something first and to only buy something on a sale.

4) Corporations lack confidence in Information Technology – Many corporation lack confidence in their Information Technology departments and usually have a few experiences of Custom Software Development that has gone badly. Product Implementations seem to be the solution to both of these issues. Outsourcing the development to an independent Custom Software Development firm seems even riskier.

So what can we do as believers in Custom Software Development?

We can do promote the benefits of Custom Software Development ; You get exactly what you need and have full control over the solution going forward.

I heard early in my career that products are best used for the supporting and expense side of your business and Custom Software Development is best used for the core business and revenue generation side of your business.

If you don’t have full control to delight and serve your clients you probably won’t be in business long.

If you are thinking of making a product decision, ask your self if it involves the revenue side of the business. Then investigate how difficult it would be to materially change the product in the future.

If these change are difficult, your product may only be capable of generating new revenues for the product vendor.


Author: Terry Bunio

Terry Bunio is passionate about his work as the Manager of the Project Management Office at the University of Manitoba. Terry oversees the governance on Information Technology projects to make sure the most important projects are being worked on in a consistent and effective way. Terry also provides leadership on the customized Project Methodology that is followed. The Project Methodology is a equal mix of Prince2, Agile, Traditional, and Business Value. Terry strives to bring Brutal Visibility, Eliminating Information islands, Right Sizing Documentation, Promoting Collaboration and Role-Based Non-Consensus, and short Feedback Loops to Minimize Inventory to the Agile Project Management Office. As a fan of pragmatic Agile, Terry always tries to determine if we can deliver value as soon as possible through iterations. As a practical Project Manager, Terry is known to challenge assumptions and strive to strike the balance between the theoretical and real world approaches for both Traditional and Agile approaches. Terry is a fan of AWE (Agile With Estimates), the Green Bay Packers, Winnipeg Jets, and asking why?

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