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Why it pays to plan for iterative development on your website

  • By 3chillies

Most development on a website usually happens within the confines of a significant project. You might be involved in building a new site, carrying out a redesign or rebrand, having to replatform or upgrade, or carry out a package of changes that amount to a relaunch. This model works fine for many organisations, but it does have two significant drawbacks.

Firstly, most sites have a laundry list of site improvements that need to be made, but teams need to wait until the next big project for the work to get carried out. That means “business-as-usual”, significant changes and additional features could take several months to be prioritised and actioned.

Secondly, the opportunity for continuous improvement is missed – where iterative changes are made on an ongoing basis, closely reflecting measurement and user feedback, leading to a more strategic, data-driven and impactful evolution of a site, all achieved with less effort and cost.

In this post we’re going to explore how planning for regular, iterative development for a website when in business-as-usual can lead to various benefits. It’s an approach that some of our clients follow and works really well.

The need for more development

When a website project is delivered and you go into “business-as-usual” there are usually various reasons why there is a call for more development:

  • Websites and digital projects are seldom completely wrapped up. There is always more that can be done to make them better.
  • As part of any project there will be requests that will have fallen out of scope, some of which might have a major impact. This means there will be a backlog beckoning from day one.
  • Some websites and projects are delivered as a Minimum Viable Project (MVP) so are designed with a backlog in mind.
  • When a site goes live there may be features that don’t quite work as expected, or user feedback will highlight obvious gaps. Getting feedback to inform your backlog is great, but it creates a demand for more work.
  • When a site launches, inevitably business stakeholders may also come with suggestions for improvements, again creating more features to add.

However, the next development may not happen due to various reasons:

  • There isn’t the budget available.
  • There are resourcing issues, especially as the project team might need to move onto other areas.
  • There may be little appetite for another project, particularly after just launching a new site.
  • There may be disagreements about what features to prioritise.

Just after a launch some kind of pause is likely and that’s usually fine. However, when there is effectively a development freeze for months and even years then it can be very frustrating for everybody involved.

How iterative development works

To avoid getting into this situation, planning cycles of regular iterative development can reap rewards. It involves:

  • Regular release and development cycles, usually either every month, two months or quarter
  • A regular process around the release and development, with milestones and meetings that are diarised.
  • A regular team across marketing team, IT team, digital agency and business stakeholders with clarity around roles and responsibilities.

Based on our experiences with our clients who have an iterative development approach set-up, we find there are some dependencies for this to work well:

  • Having a documented backlog of changes.
  • Ensuring you have the right DevOps in place for stable and smooth development and deployment.
  • Having the right team in place that can commit the time.
  • Having ongoing budget agreed up front to at least guarantee a minimum amount of development time for each development cycle.
  • Having the right mindset – this approach isn’t for everyone.


There are a number of key benefits to this approach:

  1. Delivers continuous improvement aligned to business and user needs
  2. Continuous improvement is one of those concepts that many teams aspire to, but it is difficult to achieve. However, when you take on monthly or bi-monthly development cycles this is effectively what happens and you are able to start to make changes that are more closely informed by business and user needs.

    By making smaller, regular changes you then can get into the process and mindset of “test and learn”; you introduce something new, get feedback and analytics to see how it has landed, and make more improvements. This ultimately leads to a better site which incrementally improves over time.

  3. Allows for better planning
  4. Having a regular development cycle allows you to fall into a routine which enables far better planning, helping you to schedule your activities, manage stakeholder expectations, avoid the disruption that often comes with the unpredictability of projects, better manage your costs, help map out your change management efforts and so on. Designing and implementing new features and all the relative activities just comes part of your role and routine.

    Releases are also more manageable and predictable, without the potentially heavy resourcing that comes with projects and making significant changes.

  5. Builds flexibility to respond to different needs
  6. Business stakeholders certainly know how to throw a few curveballs at a web or digital team, with requests – or more realistically demands – for new features that need to be implemented yesterday. There can also be sometimes unexpected development needs that come up, for example due to legal or regulatory changes, actions from Google relating to SEO and cookies, or technical-related issues. Because of this it really helps to build flexibility into your release schedule so you can meet any urgent needs. The great thing about regular, iterative development is that it can absorb any unexpected changes and also guarantees the developer time to meet them, so you’re fully covered.

  7. Reduces costs via avoiding project set-up and related spending
  8. Each time you run a project you accrue additional costs via project roles and set-up. For example. your agency or you might appoint a project manager, there may be some environment set-up required, there will time spent planning the project and everyone will need to get up to speed. That will happen each time you set up a project. But with continuous and iterative development you avoid the repeat costs associated with project set-up, ultimately reducing overall spending via the associated economies of scale.

    You also can swerve the unexpected costs that sometimes come with projects, with the more predicable and controllable approach that comes with ongoing development.

  9. Builds skills and relationships
  10. Ongoing development also helps to develop skills across the team as well as strong relationships, for example between agency and client, or between IT and marketing teams. By working iteratively each month everyone gets a deeper understanding of:

    • business needs
    • the technology involved
    • the processes involved
    • how to complete tasks successfully
    • what works and what doesn’t.

    Everyone is also exposed the practices, perspectives and skills of other team members, which is an excellent learning opportunity to assimilate improved ways of working and upskill. Developing strong relationships is always satisfying and makes working more fun. Everybody wins.

The power of iterative development

Iterative development is powerful. You manage your site more like a product than a series of projects, reducing costs, allowing better planning, delivering more improvement over time and generally leading to a happier team.

If you’d like to discuss how a set-up with regular iterative development might work for you and hear how we’re already working with some of our clients in this way, then get in touch!

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