Transform teamwork with Confluence. See why Confluence is the content collaboration hub for all teams. Get it free

Understanding the Iterative Process

Browse topics

The mobile phone. The personal computer. The digital camera. Teams built these products’ very first models from the ground up using iterative processes because they had no clear vision of what features customers would be willing to pay for. They had to test multiple possibilities and figure out what worked. By using the iterative process’s cyclical nature, these teams were able to build prototypes into ground-breaking innovations.

This is the value of the iterative process: it allows teams to repeat cycles of work and continuously improve their output using stakeholder feedback from previous versions. With enough iterations, it’s possible to polish a rough minimum viable product into a crowd-pleasing hit product that takes the world by storm.  

This guide will define the iterative process, how companies can benefit from it, and the steps to take to build world-class iterative processes that elevate work.

What is the iterative process?

The iterative process is a cycle of repeated work that a team creates to quickly prototype their product and get feedback from customers and stakeholders. The team then uses this feedback to improve the product in the next work cycle and repeats this process until they achieve the desired outcome. 

Another way to define the iterative process is by looking at what it’s not. It’s not a linear or sequential process. It’s not a rigid, inflexible process that stays the same each time a team completes it. On the contrary, the iterative process is a flexible, cyclical way of working. Team members collaborate and solve problems, ultimately enhancing the product using data they’ve gleaned from previous cycles. 

Benefits of using iterative processes

Tackling complex problems and completing massive projects is easier with the right framework for continuous improvement. This is why iterative processes and prototyping are beneficial for certain teams. Some of these benefits include:  

Faster time to market

There’s an advantage to being able to quickly test and quickly fail: You gain data on what works at a faster pace, which means you can move toward product launch at a faster pace. With a decreased time to market, your team can use iterative processes to improve efficiency in execution. 

Risk mitigation

Working in iterations helps the team identify risks early on. Testing a prototype will bring market realities to light and show whether you’re meeting your customers’ needs. If customer feedback is negative, a quick pivot can mitigate risk and save your team from potentially investing resources in features customers don’t want.

Continuous improvement

The basic tenet of working in iterations is continuous improvement. You test the prototype and use the feedback to enhance the product for the next cycle. You keep testing the next prototypes and keep learning with each cycle until you get the desired outcome: a product that customers need and are willing to pay for. Sequential processes won’t give you the ad hoc, on-the-go improvement that iterative processes offer.   

Lower costs

One advantage of iterative development is that it can lead to cost savings. Gathering customer feedback on each prototype makes it possible to spot costly errors early on and direct resources toward features your target audience truly needs. 

For example, a mobile app development team could discover from an early prototype that their target audience wants corporate collaboration tools more than a built-in social network feed in the app. By identifying this need early on, the team can focus time and resources on building those collaboration tools only.

Flexibility and adaptability

Another major advantage of an iterative process is its flexibility. When dealing with changing requirements, iterative cycles allow product teams to incorporate user feedback into future versions, adapting to customer needs or market trends. This adaptability is absent from non-iterative processes that are fixed in scope and linear in execution. 

Steps in the iterative process

To create an efficient iterative process that improves your products and brings you closer to business objectives, you need to get on the same page as your team. No process is universal, as each team has a different way of executing them. The best way to align the process is to use Confluence to map out and clarify the details of each step. 

An iterative process involves five stages: 


Begin by setting your goals and objectives for the project at hand. What do you want to achieve, what milestones do you need to reach, and by when? 

Next, identify the stakeholders—all those whose decisions will shape the work. Planning involves breaking down a complex project into smaller iterations and outlining each scope so the work is clear to all team members.  


In the design phase, you need to develop a solution for the current iteration. Will you achieve the goal of this work cycle by building a prototype, conducting research, or enhancing existing features? Part of this stage involves defining which metrics or KPIs to use to measure the success of this iteration. 


Implementation is where the rubber meets the road, and you execute all your plans. Often, this means the building of a prototype or the development of a feature. At this stage, getting feedback from stakeholders is key to the product’s continued improvement. There will be future cycles until the successful launch, so every bit of information can feed into the evolution of the work. 

Evaluate and test

In the evaluation and testing stage, you determine if the iteration meets its objectives. Does it pass quality standards? Do customers rate it favorably? As always, your analysis involves identifying areas for improvement. You need to test your solution for quality and effectiveness. If this cycle of work meets the goals and standards, then the next iteration becomes easier. 

Iterate and improve

The stage after testing involves using the testing information and stakeholder feedback that you’ve gathered throughout the iteration to inform the next cycle of work. A critical assessment of the previous work will lead to adjustments to your plan, design,  objectives, and scope. If you do this well, the next iteration should continue to enhance your product. 

This is the last step of the iterative process but not the last step of your work. Here, you repeat the entire cycle from the top and continue until you reach the desired outcome. 

Examples of iterative processes

When do you use these iterative processes? They work best for projects where requirements or customer needs are always changing, and the project scope has to be fluid to answer those needs. Iterative processing allows the work to evolve with each new cycle, contributing to the continuous improvement of the product.  

Some examples of iterative processes include: 

  • Agile project management: This method involves breaking down software creation into short sprints, which involve frequently delivering and testing individual features. This includes incorporating feedback from users and stakeholders into each subsequent sprint, leading to a cycle of continuous improvement as the team works toward a final product. 
  • A/B testing: This technique is prominent in marketing and product development and involves testing two or more versions of an element (e.g., an email subject line or app feature) to see which performs better with customers. After implementing the winning version, you can repeat this iterative process to optimize other elements of the product or marketing campaign elements. 
  • Scrum: This Agile methodology for project management allows teams to work in fixed-length sprints. With each sprint, a Scrum team delivers a working version of the product (the minimum viable product), and by using reviews and retrospectives, the team continuously improves the product with each sprint.
  • Kanban: Kanban is a project management method that visualizes work as cards on a Kanban board to limit the amount of work in progress and achieve an efficient flow. Like other Agile frameworks, Kanban is an iterative process. It works in sprints, and team members continually try to improve and enhance the product. Whichever side your team leans in the Kanban vs. Scrum debate, they’re both iterative processes and share all the advantages of an Agile methodology. 
  • Lean project management: The Lean methodology is a set of principles that seek to eliminate waste and always add value. Within project management, lean principles aim to make projects more efficient by taking out activities or tasks that don’t add value or delay the final outcome. How is this an iterative process? The Build-Measure-Learn cycle forms the basis of Lean project management. With each iteration, the team builds a part of the project, measures its effectiveness through feedback and data, and uses those learnings to improve the project on the next iteration.

Challenges of the iterative process

While iterative processes are beneficial, they involve common challenges that bring an element of risk to your projects. Some common challenges include:

Scope creep: With the team being in a constant state of experimentation and testing, you may increase project scope. All these new requirements could cause delays or unexpected budget increases and pose a risk to completing the work. To keep this in check, ensure that the planning phase of every iteration includes a scope definition to help the team focus on the priorities of each work cycle. 

Stakeholder expectations: Stakeholders have a say in how the product progresses because they’re end users or project owners. But, part of the process is learning to manage their expectations by explaining how the iterative process works and defining success metrics and timelines. Keep communication lines open and show the stakeholders you’re listening to their feedback—after all, their comments and suggestions will shape the future of the product.

Resistance to change: Not everyone will be on board with an iterative process, particularly with new team members. You need to manage this resistance to change by proactively explaining the benefits of the iterative process and being transparent about the successes and challenges. Managing this resistance boils down to communication—with the right amount, you can get people on the same page.

Improve your iterative processes with Confluence

When it comes to iterative processing, there’s no better platform for enhancing collaboration and creating iterative workflows than Confluence. 

Confluence is a unifying platform for completing work in your company. It brings your teams together in a shared workspace to move projects forward. Teams create and share ideas and tasks, giving stakeholders a single source of truth on project status and providing a centralized area for storing everything from project plans to company policies. 

How does Confluence help you manage iterative processes? You can store all project plans and timelines there. When an iteration is complete, use Confluence to document and store all learnings so you can use them to propel the project in the next cycle. Keep stakeholders informed of project progress or ask for feedback using Confluence’s communication tools and make every iteration a success. 

Try Confluence

The iterative process: Frequently asked questions

Why are failures important in iterative processes?

Iterative processes allow teams to experiment with new features or products and gather data that directs their way forward. Product teams can test theories quickly and use their learning to enhance their output. Failures allow the team to learn from mistakes early on and pivot to improve a product or feature that customers truly need. Without failures to dispute previously held beliefs, the team cannot improve their product or workflow.

What is a non-iterative process?

A non-iterative process is linear in the way it progresses from start to finish. There are no cycles of repetition as with iterative processes, as each step in the work is sequential and occurs only once, with each step leading to the next. The process is inflexible and rigid, so non-iterative processes are more suitable to projects with a well-defined scope, where the requirements never change, and efficiency is a key factor. Some industries where non-iterative, sequential processes are crucial include manufacturing, construction, waterfall software development, and food processing. 

What tools are associated with iterative processes?

As with any process or methodology, there are numerous tools associated with iterative processes, each catering to a specific industry or type of work. However, some general categories of tools include project management tools, such as Confluence and Jira. Due to the customizable nature of the Atlassian platform, you can tailor both Confluence and Jira to fit the iterative process of any team, and they remain flexible tools for cyclical work in any industry.

You may also like

Project Poster Template

A collaborative one-pager that keeps your project team and stakeholders aligned.

Project Plan Template

Define, scope, and plan milestones for your next project.

Enable faster content collaboration for every team with Confluence

Up Next
Project manager