Agile Workflows: How To Set an Iterative Project Lifecycle

Take a look at different agile workflows and how to set up one for project success.

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Projects can run the gamut from smaller tasks without dedicated resources to large, multi-stage efforts with massive budgets. No matter what type of project you're undertaking, understanding the principles of an agile workflow can help you plan and manage the process more efficiently.

Let's explore what an agile, iterative project lifecycle is and how to get started implementing an agile approach on any given project.

What is an agile workflow?

Agile workflows refer to processes and project management methodologies that involve continuously refining a product or service according to feedback from stakeholders. A big part of agile project management (according to the agile manifesto) is to prioritize people over processes when you’re building your agile workflow process—and that includes being ready to listen to stakeholders’ changing needs and apply a continuous improvement mindset.

This approach allows teams to remain flexible and quickly make changes in response to customer needs and other external factors. Speed and incremental value delivery are made possible by breaking the project into smaller tasks and delivering each piece as it becomes finished or valuable to the stakeholders.

In contrast, when using the waterfall approach, all stages of the project must be completed in sequence before moving on to the next step. This can lead to bottlenecks when changes need to be made due to customer feedback or other factors. This method makes it harder to respond quickly and adjust course as needed.

What are the different types of agile workflows?


The scrum workflow often used for agile software development comprises four phases: planning, implementation, review/retrospection, and release.

  • Planning. During the planning phase, the product owner or product manager define requirements and identify their goals and objectives for the project. This also involves sprint planning—according to the Agile Alliance, that's when teams look into their product backlog and discuss how to complete it. Check out our guide to backlog refinement for more details.
  • Implementation. This phase involves determining what it takes to meet the requirements, estimating effort, and assigning individuals to complete each task.
  • Review & retrospection. This phase allows stakeholders to provide feedback on incremental value delivery and/or request changes as needed, along with time for the sprint team to reflect on how the workflow is and what they can do to improve it.
  • Release. This phase consolidates all completed tasks into a working version of the product.


Kanban represents projects divided into individual tasks (often called cards), which reflect each step of a project or business process from start to finish. These cards are placed on a so-called Kanban board and organized into columns according to their current stage in development and ordered based on priority. As each work item is completed, they are moved through the various stages of the board until they reach completion, allowing everyone involved to see progress as it occurs.

The key to using Kanban for project management is limiting how many cards can be in-progress at any time. This forces teams to finish what they start before moving on to another task.

Generally, the number of items that can be in progress at any time (work in progress = WIP) is the number of team members +1. If there are five members on the team and six items are already in progress, the team will need to swarm to solve and finish one of the existing WIP items before taking on a new task.

Using a Kanban board and limiting work in progress encourages each team member to work together as they can see what tasks have been assigned, who is responsible for them, and when they should be completed.

Extreme programming

An agile workflow that uses the XP method relies on five core principles: communication, feedback, simplicity, courage, and respect.

  • Communication is a fundamental aspect of XP as it promotes collaboration among team members by encouraging everyone to share their ideas and opinions.
  • Feedback helps delivery team members identify potential problems early on so they can take corrective action.
  • Simplicity ensures that teams focus only on what is necessary for the project while avoiding unnecessary complexity.
  • Courage encourages risk-taking and experimentation to deliver maximum value with minimal risk.
  • Respect helps maintain a collaborative environment where diverse perspectives are welcomed to produce better results.

Beyond Scrum, Kanban, and XP, many other agile workflows are well-suited to drive any project and product development team to success. There is not a single best methodology or workflow for any team, project, or problem.

Selecting an agile workflow is a highly collaborative and iterative process that requires full engagement and buy-in from all team members and project sponsors.

Why use an agile workflow process instead of traditional workflows?

There are several reasons why a project team might choose to use an agile approach instead of a traditional workflow like the waterfall model. At their core, the two models differ most in how requirements are defined.

With waterfall project management, all requirements are defined at the start, along with all architecture diagrams and decisions about how the product should turn out. On the other hand, an idea for a viable product and a few essential feature requirements are all that’s typically known at the outset in an agile workflow approach. The process allows for flexibility in conditions and determining the final product over time and the project's life.

Here’s why your team may benefit from choosing an agile workflow for project delivery:

  • Flexibility: Agile approaches are designed to be flexible and adaptable, allowing teams to respond quickly to changes and pivot as needed. This can be especially important in projects where the requirements need to be more well-defined at the outset or where the project environment is uncertain or volatile.
  • Speed: Agile approaches emphasize rapid iteration and delivery, which can help teams get products to market faster.
  • Collaboration: Agile approaches strongly emphasize collaboration and communication between agile team members, stakeholders, and customers. This can help ensure everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goals.
  • Visibility: Agile approaches provide frequent opportunities for the team to review progress and adjust as needed. This can help each stakeholder stay informed about the project and provide visibility into the team's work.
  • Quality: By prioritizing the delivery of small, usable increments of work, agile approaches can help teams ensure that they are building the right thing and building it right. This can result in higher quality products.

Of course, agile approaches are not a one-size-fits-all solution and may not be the best fit for every project. It's essential to carefully consider your project's specific needs and constraints before deciding which project management approach is best.

How to begin using agile workflows in your organization

Here are six steps to implement the agile method into your workflows:

1. Educate yourself and your team about agile principles and practices

It's important to understand what the agile methodology is and how it works before you begin implementing it in your organization. Many resources are available to learn about agile workflow management, including books, online courses, and local meetups. You also check out our complete guide to agile project management.

2. Identify a pilot project

Choose a small, manageable project to use as a pilot for your agile implementation. This will allow you to test different practices and processes and make necessary adjustments before rolling out agile more broadly.

3. Assemble a cross-functional team

Agile teams are typically small, cross-functional teams empowered to make decisions and deliver value independently. Assemble a team with the skills and expertise needed to complete your pilot project.

➡️ Here's everything you need to know about forming and managing agile teams.

4. Adopt an agile methodology

There are several agile development methodologies as we mentioned above. Decide which method is best for your organization and establish the roles, ceremonies, and artifacts needed to support it.

5. Get started

With your team in place and your agile methodology established, it's time to get to work. Follow the principles and practices of your chosen method to deliver value in small, incremental chunks. Don't be afraid to adjust as you go—that's all part of the agile process!

6. Reflect and iterate on your agile practices

As you complete your pilot project, reflect on what went well and what could be improved in your workflow management. Use this learning to inform your agile implementation going forward.

Implementing agile can be challenging, and it may take time to see the full benefits. However, with careful planning and a willingness to learn and adapt, you can successfully introduce agile workflows into your organization.