What is the Iterative Process?

What is the Iterative Process?

What is the Iterative Process? Jonathan Poland

An iterative process is a method of working through a problem or project by repeating a series of steps, each of which brings the solution closer to completion. Iterative processes are commonly used in a variety of fields, including software development, design, and problem-solving, and are characterized by their focus on continuous improvement and refinement.

Benefits of iterative processes:

There are a number of benefits to using iterative processes, including:

  • Flexibility: Iterative processes allow for the incorporation of new information and changing requirements as the project progresses, enabling organizations to be more responsive and adaptable.
  • Increased efficiency: By allowing for the continuous improvement of processes and solutions, iterative processes can help organizations to identify and eliminate inefficiencies and streamline their operations.
  • Improved quality: Iterative processes allow for the identification and correction of problems and errors early in the process, resulting in a higher quality final product or solution.
  • Enhanced collaboration: Iterative processes often involve frequent communication and collaboration among team members, which can lead to better teamwork and a more cohesive final product.

Challenges and considerations:

While iterative processes have many benefits, there are also a number of challenges and considerations that organizations must address in order to effectively implement and manage them. Some of these include:

  • Resource allocation: Iterative processes often require frequent reassessment and reallocation of resources, which can be time-consuming and require careful planning.
  • Communication: Maintaining clear communication and keeping all stakeholders informed during an iterative process can be a challenge, especially in larger organizations or those with distributed teams.
  • Risk management: Iterative processes involve a certain level of risk, as they involve the continuous testing and refining of ideas and solutions. Organizations must have a plan in place to manage and mitigate this risk.

Implementation and best practices:

To effectively implement an iterative process, organizations should follow a number of best practices, including:

  • Clearly define the goals and objectives of the project or problem to be solved.
  • Establish a clear roadmap for the iterative process, including milestones and deliverables.
  • Identify and involve key stakeholders in the process.
  • Establish clear roles and responsibilities for team members.
  • Set up systems for communication and collaboration, such as regular meetings and updates.
  • Implement a process for continuously reviewing and refining the solution or project as it progresses.
  • Establish a risk management plan to identify and mitigate potential problems or setbacks.

Examples of iterative processes:

There are many examples of iterative processes in various fields, including:

  • Software development: Iterative processes are commonly used in software development, where they allow for the continuous testing and refining of code as it is developed.
  • Design: Iterative processes are also commonly used in design, where they allow for the continuous improvement and refinement of designs as they progress.
  • Problem-solving: Iterative processes can be used to solve complex problems by breaking them down into smaller steps and continuously refining the solution as new information becomes available.


Iterative processes are a valuable tool for organizations looking to improve efficiency, increase quality, and enhance collaboration. While they present some challenges and considerations, careful planning and implementation can help organizations to realize the full benefits of this approach.

The following are illustrative examples.

  • Social Processes: Social processes can be iterative such as a series of negotiation sessions that progress towards an agreement.
  • Process of Discovery: A process where you discover your end-goals as you go. For example, a high school student who tries a variety of subjects each year and begins to slowly focus on areas where they discover a talent or interest.
  • Feedback Loops: A feedback loop is a system or situation where change brings about feedback that can be used to evaluate the change. For example, an ice cream company that is always putting potential new products in front of customers to gain their feedback, improve products and repeat.
  • Trial & Error: The process of trying something that may fail and then learning from failures and successes to try again. This is essentially an experiment that may not apply the full processes of the scientific method. For example, a child who makes a paper airplane, throws it and makes design changes based on how well it flew.
  • Prototypes: Creating throwaway or evolutionary prototypes of a product or service. Typically viewed as an iterative process of improvement based on trial & error and feedback loops.
  • Practice: Practice is an iterative process of performing an activity many times in order to learn and develop talents. Practice generates knowledge of performance and knowledge of results that can be used to improve.
  • Iterative Refinement: The process of advancing the quality of a work product by creating many versions of it with the goal of improving with each version. For example, a painter who begins with sketches before creating a painting. Painters are known to repeat the same work several times in order to reach a higher state of refinement.
  • Iteration: Iteration is a basic structure of computer code that repeats a series of instructions until some condition is met. For example, computer code that loops through a telecom customer’s call records to generate a long distance phone bill.
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