Bespoke software

By Gordon Barrs | Sep 24 2018

What is bespoke software?

Bespoke is just a fancy word for custom, right? Well, yes. And no.

According to the word ‘originated in shoemaking, but gained in popularity through custom tailoring in England, where lengths of cloths were said to be “spoken for” or “bespoken” by another customer.’ 1 There are several levels of custom-made clothes:

  • Made-to-order - only the materials are customised
  • Made-to-measure - the materials and the cut are tailored based on a single fitting
  • Bespoke - garments are made through a series of fittings

Translating this into software development, we can think of ‘made-to-measure’ as being like a fixed-scope, Waterfall development process, where we get the requirements up-front, build the software and then deliver it. This process does not cater for any changes to the original specification.

I see bespoke software development as an iterative process, requiring an intimate understanding of the problem and a strong relationship between the developer and the customer. If we start by delivering a minimal viable product, customers get to use the software as soon as it is ready - to try it out for size so to speak. Through a series of iterations and feedback, we can amend, add and remove features until we have software that works as we want it.

As with tailoring, the bespoke software may take a little longer to produce and require a little more active involvement of the customer during production, but the result is something that is precisely the right fit.

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