Many people have heard me talk about my favorite high school teacher, Dr. Karen Hoppes, who first taught me how valuable iteration can be. She assigned a 15-page research paper that we could turn in as many times as we wanted until we got a grade we were satisfied with. It usually took four or five times of turning the paper in before students could earn an A or a B, but the value of the overall effort could not be captured within a single letter grade. Like so many things in life, the value was in the journey, not the destination.
In agile companies, an iterative process is well-known as a method of development. Product developers, marketers, educators, and software engineers have long used an approach of iteration in their work. But using an iterative process can be valuable across most business areas, and leaders would do well to encourage people to think and work with iteration in mind.
What is an Iterative Process?
An iterative process is merely a way of testing and revising as one progresses toward a goal. In software development, this process might involve using the software right from the beginning and making improvements and changes along the way. In education, it might mean asking students to turn in multiple drafts toward a final project so that instructors can offer feedback and course correction as necessary.
A formal iterative process consists of five steps: plan, design, implement, test, and evaluate and review. However, the process doesn’t have to be formal to benefit organizations or teams. An iterative approach offers advantages across a wide range of industries, functions, and roles. Very few people can produce a final project, perfect metrics, or ideal results the first time around. Leaders should encourage an approach that allows for rough drafts and incremental progress.
Here are five advantages of an iterative process:
1. Allows for More Voices and Input
When someone proceeds along a project path with a clear deadline for the final project and no opportunity for input, the project may be good, but is it the best? Giving teammates and superiors chances to provide input and feedback can help people produce something top-notch.
2. Reduces Risk
In a product development environment, an iterative process allows teams to address higher-risk pieces of the project earlier in the process, but this benefit translates into other settings. When multiple people have eyes on a project or document early, there are more opportunities to address, reduce, or eliminate risk.
3. Encourages Psychological Safety
When an iterative process is supported, people understand that everyone’s voices are valued, and pushback can be interpreted as a good thing. It also encourages people to admit when they’re stuck or unsure, allowing teams to nurture an environment where vulnerability is accepted.
4. Promotes Flexibility and a Growth Mindset
When the stakes are low early in a project, everyone on a team can take an approach that encourages learning and revising. Early versions or drafts become malleable, and team members can indulge in “what ifs” to promote innovation, flexibility, and improvement.
5. Draws the Best Work Out
First drafts are rarely the best drafts. An iterative process allows people to genuinely exhaust their resources and capabilities and create the best possible products.
If your teams aren’t already using an iterative process for projects, start encouraging this approach. Not only will project outcomes improve, but your team will likely become more cohesive in the process.
- What is one project or process where we could try an iterative approach?
- Does our organization encourage a process that allows for repeated feedback and revision?
- How can I encourage a more iterative approach on my team?