Iteration Management: Optimizing Cycles in Agile Development - 7pace
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Iteration Management: Optimizing Cycles in Agile Development
Published:Jun 06, 2023

Iteration Management: Optimizing Cycles in Agile Development

Iterations, also known as sprints, are at the core of project management in Agile Scrum. By breaking down ambitious tasks into smaller chunks, teams can constantly assess priorities and adapt to the changing requirements of the project. 

But let’s be real here – managing iterations in Agile development can be quite the challenge.

Since the Agile project is broken down into numerous tasks of varying scale, project managers must granularly estimate the time and effort required to complete each task to be able to adhere to deadlines and budgets set forth by various stakeholders. 

You must also establish clear iteration goals, correctly prioritize backlog items, foster collaboration across teams, and reassess plans as you go along.

So, to make matters easier, we’ll walk you through the key elements of iteration planning for Agile teams, share our own best practices for sprint management, and provide a list of essential metrics to measure iteration performance. We’ll also discuss the role of time tracking in iteration planning, including how it can be used to craft better estimates. Keep reading to know more!

What Is Iteration Management?

Iteration management is all about the nitty-gritty of process of planning, executing, and monitoring iterative development cycles in project management, particularly in software development methodologies such as Agile and Scrum.

Picture this: Each project is broken down into smaller units called iterations or sprints, each with specific objectives and deliverables. 

Why do we practice iteration management? Well, it allows team members to deliver incremental value, incorporate feedback, and adapt to changing requirements or priorities more easily. Ultimately, it helps ensure that the final product meets the users’ needs and expectations while maintaining high levels of quality and efficiency.

5 Phases of Iteration Management

When we think about “managing” an iteration, this really breaks down into 5 key elements or phases. The phases run in parallel with the work being done as part of the iteration itself and give the team structure.

Key Elements of Iteration Management

Phase 1: Iteration Planning

Before the start of each iteration, the team conducts an iteration sprint planning session to identify and prioritize tasks or user stories to be addressed during the upcoming iteration. 

This involves:

  • Review and prioritization of the project backlog
  • Updating and referencing the product development roadmap
  • Estimating the effort required for each task
  • Selecting tasks that can be realistically completed within the iteration

The team also establishes the iteration’s goals and objectives based on stakeholder expectations and project priorities.

Phase 2: Execution

During the iteration, team members work on the tasks assigned to them. They may collaborate with other team members, seek clarifications from stakeholders, or refine requirements as necessary. As tasks are completed, they are typically marked as “done” in the project management tool, allowing the team to track progress throughout the iteration.

Phase 3: Monitoring

As iterations unfold, things change (but it’s ok!).

The best laid plans, as they say, often go awry. And every product owner and engineering manager knows that’s true when it comes to the current iteration you’re working within.

Team members usually hold daily stand-up meetings to discuss their progress, challenges, and any assistance they may need. The product manager or Scrum Master is the facilitator – responsible for removing impediments, enabling teamwork, and helping the team maintain focus on their iteration goals.

Team leads will also usually monitor progress using dashboards, like a burndown chart (or a burn up chart, if you prefer!), to see the project team’s progress in real time. 

This can help them with decision-making if problems or delays threaten the project’s outcome. 

Phase 4: Retrospective

At the end of each iteration, the team conducts a sprint review or retrospective to demonstrate the completed work to stakeholders, solicit feedback, and ensure that the iteration’s objectives have been met. 

Following the review, the team holds a retrospective meeting to discuss what went well, what could be improved, and any lessons learned during the iteration. This feedback is then incorporated into project planning of the next iteration, enabling continuous improvement and adaptation.

Phase 5: Closure

After the review and retrospective, the team closes the iteration by updating the project backlog with any remaining or newly identified tasks. The cycle then begins again with the planning of the next iteration.

Best Practices for Iteration Planning for Agile Teams

Running an iteration may seem easy. 

You just plop some work items on the kanban board, move them from left to right, and call it a day. What could be so hard? 

If you’re reading this, I can only assume this isn’t your first day in software development. So, you know that merely keeping everything on track can often be more than a full-time job.

Now, let’s dive into some of the key challenges that arise during the iteration lifecycle.

Battling Scope Creep

The first thing to disrupt most Agile workflows is scope creep. 

If your team’s scoped in four user stories for a two-week iteration but those user stories keep expanding until each one is an entire sprint unto itself, then you’re in trouble. 

At the most basic level, scope creep is combated by having an extremely clear acceptance criteria upfront. Draw a line around the user story that can’t be expanded. This is the acceptable delivery and must be defined upfront. 

Of course, this requires buy-in and collaboration from a cross-functional team of stakeholders, not just the development team.

If you consistently encounter scope creep problems, it’s time to convene a task force:

  • Define and agree upon a framework for acceptance criteria.
  • Implement internal review/approval of said acceptance criteria before stories, features, or requests can be added to the approved backlog.
  • Implement a change request workflow for handling any changes proposed to in-sprint work items as business needs evolve or new information emerges.
  • Consider adding a sprint pre-planning step to the workflow to tighten up the actual sprint planning process.

Besting Underdelivery

Okay, let’s tackle the big one. 

What do you do if your team is consistently failing to meet the sprint goals you’ve all agreed to?

Usually, the problem can be diagnosed as one of three main issues:

  1. Lack of communication
  2. Lack of effort
  3. Lack of information

Lack of communication

The easiest one to solve (at least, in theory) is a lack of communication. 

If, for some reason, your team doesn’t have a clear understanding of what they’re expected to do or what the requirements are during an iteration, things can quickly become chaotic. This is typically a breakdown in process. The Agile framework is designed to optimize the team’s performance by increasing communication, transparency, and accountability. 

So, if you’re experiencing issues of, “I didn’t know I was supposed to do that,” then consider these options: 

  • Implement consistent sprint durations. Establish a regular sprint cadence to create predictability and help the team stay in sync.
  • Maintain daily Scrum discipline. Facilitate active participation and preparation during daily stand-up meetings to promote transparent communication, collaboration, and problem-solving.
  • Foster transparent communication. Promote openness and honesty among team members and stakeholders to build trust and shared understanding.

Lack of effort

Addressing a lack of effort is more challenging.

If your team is genuinely struggling to complete the work (and the workload appears reasonable), you may be dealing with a few isolated problems.


Even the most capable developers can feel overwhelmed or disorganized. 

This feeling often comes from too many things floating around in their brain (or on their screen). As a manager, you can usually help alleviate it by streamlining processes and systems to help them stay focused.

  • Limit work-in-progress (WIP) tasks. Encourage focus on high-priority tasks by simplifying and streamlining the task list.
  • Time-box meetings and events. Keep meetings efficient by setting time limits, adhering to agendas, and discussing only relevant topics.
  • Automate and integrate. Using integrations and automations that simplify overhead, extra tasks, and “work about work”, you can help clear the way for focused productivity. 
Poor fit

It’s possible that the person or persons are just not right for the role and struggling with the work itself. This will need to be addressed at a 1:1 level between manager and developer.


See burnout below.

Lack of information

In most cases, lack of information is the true culprit in these scenarios.

How can your team possibly know how long it will take them to build something if they don’t have extremely detailed and accurate information about what they’re building?

This is one of the core tenets behind 7pace and our philosophy on time tracking for developers.

To effectively manage a developer’s time, both the manager and the individual need clear data about how their time was spent in the past. This gives you a frame of reference for whether a work item might be a 3-hour project or a 30-hour beast. 

Better yet, having consistent data that’s updated with each iteration helps your team become smarter and better attuned to their abilities and outputs. 

Conquering Burnout

Just like anyone else, developers are prone to burnout. 

Especially when recent sprints have felt more like marathons. 

Burnout in developers can be caused by various factors and situations, but the solutions remain the same. Developers need time to rest and recover, both physically and mentally.

Otherwise bad things start to happen. 

As a manager, your role is crucial: 

  • Identify. Using a combination of intuition and tools such as a burnout index, assess your team’s performance for signs that they may be struggling.
  • Intervene. If you have reason to believe that members of your team are struggling with burnout, it’s important to be proactive. Help them help themselves by offering solutions.
  • Communicate. Don’t increase stigma around burnout by leaving the team in the dark. Clearly communicate challenges (with permission), be transparent, and encourage the team to support one another in times of stress.

Paying Down Technical Debt

Another big challenge in managing iterations is finding the balance between achieving a “done” status and addressing technical debt. 

In many cases, teams will push to meet sprint goals but may introduce issues or bugs that create technical debt for future iterations. 

All products have technical debt. But if the pile-up is becoming a problem, it likely means that there isn’t enough time within the sprint dedicated to code review, testing, and QA processes. 

Here are some fixes to consider:

  • Accurately scope code review into your iteration. Measure it. 
  • Automate integration testing and QA processes to speed up and improve QA metrics.
  • Add new KPIs to sprint goals aimed at reducing the introduction of new technical debt.

Essential KPIs for Measuring Iteration Performance

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) help Agile and Scrum teams measure their performance, improve, and track progress towards project goals. Some important KPIs for measuring iteration performance include:

  • Velocity: Velocity measures the amount of work completed by the team during a sprint, usually represented in story points or hours. It helps teams gauge their productivity and predict future capacity.
  • Sprint burndown: This chart tracks the remaining work in the sprint backlog over time, illustrating how quickly the team is completing tasks. It helps identify whether the team is on track to complete the sprint goal.
  • Cumulative flow diagram: This visualization shows the distribution of work items across different stages of the development process. It helps identify bottlenecks, work in progress, and trends in the team’s performance.
  • Cycle time: Cycle time measures the time it takes to complete a work item from the moment it’s picked up to the moment it’s done. It helps teams understand their efficiency and identify areas for improvement.
  • Lead time: Lead time measures the time it takes from when a work item is added to the backlog until it’s completed. It helps assess the overall responsiveness of the team to new requirements.
  • Work item age: This metric tracks how long a work item has been in progress. High work item age may indicate potential issues, such as blockers or scope creep.
  • Escaped defects: Escaped defects refer to the number of issues or bugs found in the product after it’s been released to users. This metric helps evaluate the quality of the software delivered by the team.
  • Defect resolution time: This KPI measures the time it takes to fix defects or bugs after they have been reported. Faster resolution times indicate a more efficient and responsive team.
KPIs for Measuring Iteration Performance

The Role of Time Tracking in Iteration Management

Incorporating time-based metrics into the planning process helps Agile teams achieve better results and deliver value more efficiently. It enables accurate estimates, effective resource allocation, transparency, accountability, and supports billing documentation.

Here’s an overview of a few key benefits of using time-tracking as a strategy to power your iteration planning: 

  • Better estimations: By monitoring time spent on tasks, teams can use historical data to improve their estimations for similar tasks in future sprints, leading to more realistic and achievable goals.
  • Resource allocation: Time-tracking allows project managers to understand the time distribution across different tasks, enabling them to allocate resources more effectively and balance workloads for team members.
  • Transparency and accountability: Tracking time promotes transparency within the team, making it easier to identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and areas where additional support or training might be needed.
  • Informed planning: Analyzing time-tracking data helps teams identify performance trends, enabling more informed decisions when planning future sprints and projects.
  • Accurate billing and reporting: For client-facing projects, time-tracking ensures accurate billing and provides reports that demonstrate the team’s progress and value.

7pace is a time-tracking and performance management solution specifically designed for software development teams using Azure DevOps. It allows teams to effortlessly track and manage time spent on various tasks and activities, then using that data to craft better estimates and forecasts for future projects.

Want to see 7pace’s iteration management features in action? Sign up for a free trial today!

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João Mota


This is a mix of good and bad practices, subverted concepts and misleading practices just to justiffy the existence of this tool. I really hope nobody thinks this is a good idea.

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