A workflow change will affect all existing issues using it. However, the data from workflows that goes on to an issue is static, point-in-time, and pretty much just the current status. So, if your workflow edits do not remove any status, the data currently on the issues is not changed at all. (Removing a status requires you to move the issues in that status to one that does exist in the new workflow)
I have multiple projects that use variations of the same base workflow. The variations depend on the requirements of the project or issue type. The variations mostly come in the form of new statuses ...
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