Project management is a challenging and complicated task involving multiple stakeholders and varying timelines. Despite your best efforts, things may not always go as planned.
This is especially true with projects that are complex, creative, or require feedback to be successful. This is where the iterative process, or continuous improvement, proves useful.
When following the iterative process, projects undergo frequent revisions to ensure the product or service is continuously improved upon. By doing so, we can ensure that the product always matches the end user’s requirements.
What is the Iterative Process?
The iterative process involves cyclically creating, reviewing, and updating a product or initiative based on feedback. You can repeat this iterative development process until you (and your end customer) are satisfied with the final result.
The iterative process is especially suitable for fields like research, product development, and design as these projects are long-term, complex, and require feedback and flexibility. Agile teams use this method to complete a project.
This is why most engineering teams follow the agile methodology framework, collaborating with customers from the beginning and basing future updates on customer feedback.
Iterative Process vs. Non-Iterative Process
In the iterative process, the previous version of a project is periodically revised to match changing requirements and feedback. In the non-iterative process (or waterfall methodology), projects are executed linearly instead, from point A to point Z in distinct phases.
Another key difference is that in an iterative process, reviews are conducted after every cycle, making it easier to tweak the product as it is being developed. However, in a non-iterative process, the final product can be reviewed only after the project is completed.
A non-iterative process works best when you have stable requirements, well-defined results, and are on a schedule. For example, if you were writing a novel, you would progress from outline to characterization to final draft linearly. Only the final, edited version of the novel would be released to the public and measured for success.
The iterative process, in contrast, is suitable for projects that would benefit from flexibility and constant iterations. For example, you could launch an alpha version of your app, get early users to test it, and use their feedback to revise features or add new updates.
This is a continuous process where every new iteration of your app is an improvement over the last one. There is no defined end; you can repeat the cycle as often as you want.
Iterative Process vs. Incremental Process
The iterative and incremental processes are related but different project management methods. While both feature continuous improvement, that’s where their similarities also end.
In the iterative process model, a project is entirely revised, with the complete solution going through cyclic revisions. An example would be ClickUp releasing v.3.0 of its app, where the entire app goes through a revamp.
In the incremental process, a project is broken down into multiple segments, each released one after the other. An example would be ClickUp releasing new AI updates every few months, where every update adds to the final solution.
How Does an Iterative Process Work?
Let’s dive deeper into how teams across different fields and industries use the iterative process to move a project through different stages.
Most engineers start their projects with a blueprint, followed by a prototype, a test product, and multiple iterations before they reach the final product.
Whether it’s an app, website, or game, it will go through multiple development cycles (sometimes throughout its lifecycle) to deliver the most up-to-date product to the customer.
UX designers frequently use the iterative process to enhance user interface and experience. They create design prototypes, run usability tests to gather feedback, and refine designs in successive iterations.
Scientists follow the iterative design process, too. Research often requires iterative experimentation and multiple cycles of experimentation and analysis to progress.
While marketing campaigns might not be the first example that comes to mind for the iterative process, they can benefit from using an iterative approach. Marketers can test different channels and strategies, analyze results, and adjust their approach based on feedback and performance data.
The iterative process adds value to many industries, including sales, events, education, and even healthcare, by helping them evaluate and standardize their processes and workflows for better efficiency.
Advantages of an Iterative Process in Project Management
So far, we’ve seen how an iterative process benefits teams by providing them with a continuous feedback loop throughout the project’s lifecycle. However, that’s not the only advantage.
Here are some more ways that iterative models of project management, like agile or lean, benefit project managers:
- Adaptability: By using a trial and error method, iterative development allows projects to easily adapt to new requirements or unforeseen challenges in each cycle
- Consistent feedback loop: An iterative process establishes a regular feedback loop with the customer. This ensures that the evolving product aligns with user expectations
- Cost-effective: As the iterative process addresses issues early in the development cycle, it’s easy to course-correct and reduce the impact of potential errors. It’s also easier to move in a different direction if the scope of the project changes
- Speed: Iterative development helps teams deliver product revisions in shorter cycles. This rapid-release structure improves time-to-market periods, allowing for quicker project milestones and benefits realization
- Better collaboration: Iterative processes like agile scrum encourage collaboration every step of the way by giving project members defined roles and encouraging communication in each review cycle
- Increased efficiency: As iterative processes aren’t linear, you can work on multiple things simultaneously. For example, during a feature release, design the UI, work on the coding, and finalize the product positioning parallelly, as they are all related tasks that don’t depend on each other
These advantages make iterative approaches particularly suitable for projects where requirements are subject to change, and a high degree of flexibility and responsiveness is required.
Challenges Associated with the Iterative Process
While the iterative process offers several benefits, it also comes with challenges. Some potential drawbacks of using the iterative approach in your project management include:
- Scope creep: As iterative development constantly evolves, projects can change beyond their original scope, resulting in a final product that looks very different from the initial picture
- Complexity: Managing multiple iterations can increase complexity and make it challenging to track feedback and updates
- Quality concerns: The focus on rapid iterations can compromise the overall quality of the product. Adequate validation processes must be in place for each launch cycle to ensure quality
- Vague timelines: The processes under the iterative model may take longer to complete compared to a linear process, as you may have to repeat the development cycle until you reach a satisfying conclusion
- Difficult to measure: As projects are constantly revised based on new feedback, priorities can change, and establishing fixed metrics to track milestones becomes a challenge
However, one can address most of these challenges by having a clear goal for your project, using project management tools like sprints and kanban, and establishing clear communication channels with all stakeholders.
The Steps to an Iterative Development Process
Most iterative development processes follow a five-step framework—plan, design, implement, test, and review.
In this section, we will demonstrate how you can incorporate these steps in your projects and how work management software tools like ClickUp Agile Project Management make this transition to the agile process easier.
Like any business process, an iterative project also starts with a plan. This includes creating a project vision, breaking down a larger project into actionable tasks, assigning DRIs (directly responsible individuals), allocating a budget, and so on. You can also use this phase to create a ‘review’ plan—a template to evaluate your final solution.
How ClickUp helps
Teams can use ClickUp’s agile project management features like scrum boards, ClickUp Gantt charts, kanban, and more to plan and track their projects.
Run your ClickUp Sprints.
Use ClickUp to create weekly sprint cycles, allot points for each task, and even automatically move uncompleted tasks to a new sprint. Use reports like burnout charts, cumulative flows, and velocity metrics to pinpoint dependencies and gauge your team’s workload.
Set up ClickUp Goals.
Set up measurable goals for each cycle or iteration to prevent scope creep and ensure your project stays on track. Track your progress with ClickUp across multiple goals using numerical, monetary, and even true or false targets.
Now that you’ve finalized your plan, the next step is putting your ideas on paper. This would mean designing the UI/UX or prototypes for product and engineering teams. For marketing teams, this would mean outlining the campaign details, setting a budget, etc.
How ClickUp helps
From managing your documents to brainstorming ideas and collaborating in real-time, ClickUp Product Management solutions allow you to do it all from one place.
Manage your documents
Draft your documents in ClickUp Docs so they’re easily accessible to the rest of your team. You can organize them as nested pages, set permission levels, and even link them to specific tasks or subtasks in your project.
Plus, the real-time collaboration tools in ClickUp Docs make it easy for you and your team to edit documents and exchange feedback.
Brainstorm with Whiteboards
Use ClickUp Whiteboards to visualize your designs and collaborate with your team. You can draw freehand, add shapes and images, and link to other docs, tasks, and projects in your workspace to connect everything.
Here’s where you do the actual work—building your product, coding your app, or creating your marketing campaign. This is also the time to get feedback from internal stakeholders.
How ClickUp helps
As the iterative process is nonlinear, multiple members will work on different tasks simultaneously. Thus, keeping track of everything can get complicated. Use ClickUp’s project management solutions to keep track of all the moving pieces.
Visualize task progress with ClickUp Kanban boards.
Use the Kanban view in ClickUp to see your tasks as mini cards. The drag-and-drop editor makes it easy to move task cards to other statuses. It also makes it easy to filter tasks for a bird’s eye view of their progress and identify action items.
It’s time for quality control—test your solution for issues and weaknesses, and ensure no glitches. This is also the stage where you can get primary feedback from a small number of external users. Based on the type of project, this can be from surveys, focus groups, or beta testers.
How ClickUp helps
This is the unofficial ‘feedback’ stage, where various team members provide suggestions. Use ClickUp and its integration tools to keep track of this feedback, share it with stakeholders, and move it to third-party tools.
Notify relevant people with tags and emails
Whenever you get vital feedback from users, you can add it as a comment to a task and tag relevant people to notify them. If they’re not part of your ClickUp workspace, email them directly from the task view with all relevant details.
Sync bugs with dev tools
Whenever you find an issue or a bug, create a bug report and sync it with tools like Gitlab, Github, and BitBucket so it’s part of your deployment pipeline.
5. Review and evaluate
It’s time to review all feedback and evaluate whether this iteration is satisfactory. If yes, then close your project. If not, continue working on the project based on your current learnings.
How ClickUp helps
In this stage, ClickUp helps teams summarize learnings and plan further steps.
Create summaries with ClickUp AI
ClickUp AI helps users summarize content quickly—tasks, documents, or entire projects. This makes it easy to create a summary of common feedback (if the goal is to plan a new iteration) or summarize project goals and progress (if you want to close the project).
Plan progress with mind maps
Use mind maps to map out your next steps—whether it’s a final breakdown to analyze user response or a workflow for your next iterative cycle. ClickUp’s Mind Map feature makes it easy to design workflows, make connections, and even convert nodes into tasks from within a mind map.
Execute your Iterative Processes with ClickUp
The iterative process is an excellent way to produce high-quality output that meets the end user’s needs. Continuous improvement with cyclical feedback and iterations will make your product or campaign better and more impactful.
While the iterative process also comes with challenges, project management tools like ClickUp will help you establish faster and more efficient processes to build bigger and better ones.
ClickUp has built-in agile and scrum tools to help businesses implement an excellent iterative process and customize it to match their unique requirements. Sign up for a free ClickUp trial today and experience seamless iterative processes.