Every project goes through dozens of stages before completion.
You start with research, move on to development, and continue improving after release.
But there’s more to it than just those steps. Whether you’re developing a gaming app or designing the next big social media platform, you’ll tweak and test your product to get it just the way you and your customers like it. And that requires many iterations.
This refinement is known as the iterative process, and it’s a powerful way to produce your optimal deliverable while also streamlining your strategies.
What’s an iterative process?
The iterative process is a problem-solving approach that aims to improve a project or product through testing, refining, and revising over and over. While it typically appears in the context of agile project management teams, the iterative process is an adaptable trial-and-error methodology that can help any team break things down and produce the best possible end product.
Some see the iterative process the same as an incremental process, as both strive to refine and improve deliverables through constant adjustment. The main difference is the iterative process incorporates product changes throughout its development process, which adds time and resources to the overall project. The incremental design process first develops a minimum viable product (MVP) and then adds features, making its initial development cycle faster.
An iterative methodology is ideal for initiating your project in a timely fashion because you only need a minimum set of goals and objectives at launch. There’s no need to have all of the details for the final product yet. They’ll develop during the project’s many stages.
How does the iterative process work in project management?
Iterative project management works by using short development cycles to make adjustments for constant improvement.
You and your team start the iterative process by creating the beta version of the product or service. At the end of that first cycle, you test and evaluate the product to see if further refinement or additions are necessary — in most cases, they will be.
After incorporating those changes, you and your team determine if you made any improvements, if you need further improvements, and where operational processes might need refinement for the next cycle. Bringing in external sources for feedback may help you make more informed decisions after each cycle or at predetermined milestones.
This cycle of launching, testing, and improving then repeats for each subsequent iteration, bringing you closer to the final product.
Why is it helpful to use the iterative process?
The iterative process helps your team develop successful projects because it offers more opportunities for improvement. The phases of iterative lifecycles tend to be short, so you have more chances to incorporate new information and adjust developmental strategies as things evolve. You can use it as a risk assessment and troubleshooting strategy for potential roadblocks and issues.
Other benefits that the iterative process brings to project management are:
Because each iteration cycle is short, you can quickly make revisions and refinements. This is particularly useful when your project plan doesn’t yet include the final product vision because it brings you closer to that goal, faster.
The iterative process allows for more deviations in your development plan because you and your team see the progress after each iterative cycle. It gives you the chance to make any necessary changes as needed, no matter what they are.
After assessing each iteration you finish, you and your team can formulate plans and strategies that reduce development costs for the next cycle. You’re able to see what works best for reaching the next step and can more easily avoid expensive processes.
All of your team members can access the results of each iterative phase. This transparency encourages clear communication and puts more eyes on your project to spot potential problems.
During an iterative process, you might spot more problems during the early stages of product development before the end goal is clear. Each subsequent iteration experiences more refinement, thus minimizing your potential risks as you head toward project completion.
The iterative process in 5 steps
The iterative process might seem simple: implement, test, change. But these steps require more effort and detail. Here’s what to do for effective iterative planning:
1. Planning and requirements
Begin your iterative process by defining your project objectives. These don’t have to be excessively specific. Just outline what you want the final product to accomplish.
From there, develop your project plan, ensuring it includes all the requirements necessary to launch your project. Consider using a project roadmap at this stage to make your planning easier.
2. Analysis and design
Here, you and your team use the basis of your project plan to map out the resources and technical requirements you need to initiate it. Anticipate changes after each iterative cycle as your product improves.
At this stage, your team creates an iteration of your product or service for assessment and evaluation, implementing feedback where necessary.
Once you have a finished version of the product, you and your team test it in its current state to gauge whether you’ve created an acceptable MVP. The criteria depend on the type of project and its final goal. For one iteration, you might conduct A/B testing, and for another, you might bring together a focus group.
5. Evaluation and review
Now it’s time to assess your iteration and determine what needs changing to reach your desired deliverable. You and your team — and possibly stakeholders — assemble together to form a consensus on what you need to achieve for the next iteration. You’ll repeat steps 2–5 until you have a final deliverable.
Examples of the iterative process
An iterative process could apply to anything — continuing your education, cooking, or even learning an instrument. But agile development is where it thrives. Here are some examples of iteration in action:
- Engineering teams: Iterative processes may include software upgrades, bug fixes, and streamlined coding. A/B testing with differing iterations is a common practice within engineering teams because it shows what the most effective versions of the product are.
- Product development teams: Product development is an obvious but key example of iteration. Creating new features, improving performance, or even bringing an entirely new product to market use the iterative process.
- Sales teams: Certain sales tactics can undergo an iterative process to find the ones that generate the most leads or conversions. This could be cold call and email strategies, billing options, or even accounting procedures.
Use project management tools that support your process
The iterative process is a powerful method to use for improving your projects, products, and services. But it isn’t effective if you don’t plan and track every step you take.