Project managers know well how plans inevitably change – regardless of how much preparation and thought is put into the planning phase, the plan can eventually derail. However, project management approaches today are applying a different mindset to manage change by expecting it before it arrives. The basis of this mindset is to be nimble, understand the principles of iterative methods, and embed them in your daily approach.

This mentality is embraced in Agile methodologies (such as scrum, extreme programming, kanban, lean development) pertaining to software development. The mindset revolves around three main abilities: exploring, learning and persevering.

This article highlights how iterative practices can help you reach your goals, all while staying engaged and empowered.

What does it mean to be iterative?

Iteration is the process of repeating steps. It involves reaching a defined goal by exerting time and effort with a minimum amount of steps. Limiting the number of steps simplifies the process by ensuring smaller, manageable tasks. Given the limitations on time and scope, the first version of a deliverable may not be the final product. Therefore, it is important to keep the iterative process timebound (usually between 2 to 4 weeks) allowing enough time to analyze what has been done, present it to stakeholder(s), and collect feedback for your next iteration.

The iterative mindset does not presume that everything will go well from the start; it acknowledges that mistakes will be made and encourages recognizing them early within the process.

The feedback loop

The iterative lifecycle includes a feedback loop which is key for reaching your end goal. Although the number of iterative cycles is not defined, each iteration can present additional improvements that will contribute to your final output. This method does not allow for errors to accumulate and brings closer alignment and direction to the target solution.

The most valuable aspects in the feedback loop are shared commitment to a purpose and two-way communication on the progress made towards it. It is a temporary pause to review what has been done and renew your requirements. Rather than starting from scratch, it allows the projects team to align and build upon the acquired feedback. The feedback loop also fosters a culture of collaboration and empowerment which enables continuous improvement and strong stakeholder relationships.

Afterwards, a retrospective review is carried out to assess the following:

  • What went well 
  • What could be improved
  • What did not go well 

These takeaways, in addition to the feedback received from stakeholders, will prepare your team for the next iteration.

The Agile manifesto

The Agile manifesto was created in February 2021 by 17 software developers to establish common ground between traditional ways of working and creating opportunity for new alternatives. It comprises 12 principles that are linked to the below values focusing on customer satisfaction, alignment to objectives, and the ability to respond quickly to user needs and market changes.



Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

  • Projects are run by people and are meant to impact people
  • Processes and tools can be run by machines or artificial intelligence
  • Individuals and interactions will improve communication and form a stronger collegial network to voluntary help each other for a shared purpose

Working software over comprehensive documentation

  • Applies a results-oriented approach which is formed in increments
  • Deviates from spending large efforts on traditional comprehensive documents which may be lengthy and timely to develop

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

  • Collaboration fosters ongoing communication and adaptability
  • Negotiations can be more formal, rigid and contractual
  • Working jointly on a solution can lead to self-managed consensus driven decisions

Responding to change over following a plan

  • Embracing change and being able to pivot will help you find opportunities
  • Expectation of unforeseen or unplanned situations that are outside your plan


Design thinking

Design thinking was introduced by the cognitive scientist and Nobel Prize laureate, Herbert Simon. It involves five phases: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. It is used by professionals in a variety of fields to innovatively solve problems in human centric ways to meet users’ needs. Many pioneers and organizations have adopted and customized this methodology to suit their context.



 Flexibility, curiosity and positivity

Emphasizes the desired outcome rather than the problem


Experiences something from someone else’s perspective rather than a siloed viewpoint


Explores various possibilities and ensures consistency on vision and desired outcomes

Seven guiding principles

Reflecting on the values of the Agile manifesto and the design thinking methods (which are both iterative), the following seven principles have shown to be crucial for guiding an iterative mindset:

  1. Prioritize people and empathy – understand your audience’s perceptions and how your goal will impact them
  2. Be dedicated to values – maintain integrity throughout the process and avoid distractions
  3. Keep learning – openly question, analyze and listen to different perspectives
  4. Validate your assumptions – stay clear of bias
  5. Discover the root cause – when faced with an issue, dig deep to reveal the underlying cause
  6. Be bold – think innovatively and creatively, even if it pushes you to take risks
  7. Accept ambiguity – keep faith in your mindset, capabilities and the end solution

Leveraging the iterative mindset

As we confront the challenges of today’s ever-changing landscape, being iterative enables you to be a more efficient professional and empathetic human being. While it is important to have a healthy combination of soft and technical skills to tackle these challenges, studies have shown that soft skills are as important as hard skills.

Embracing the iterative mindset can introduce a sense of self control and humility into your daily life. It allows you to appreciate different perspectives and overcome uncertainty, unanswered questions or mistakes.

With today’s emerging technologies, for instance artificial intelligence, technical skills can be programmed. However, our capability to understand others, develop trusted relationships, take risks, and recover from failures cannot be automated or coded. Fostering a healthy culture where you apply this mindset in everything that you do will nurture your overall well-being.

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