Revisiting old projects: a necessary evil

15th February 2020

A completed project is a satisfying thing indeed, but once it gets past a few months old work can quickly become an old shame. Not that the work is bad, but more that you have advanced enough in those months that you’re acutely aware of how you could have done things better.

Nevertheless, it’s important to revisit old projects (and I mean as far back as you can find), for more than one reason. Buckle up, it’s list time.

Maintaining a website? Be proactive, not reactive

Many developers or agencies will keep a hosting or maintenance contract with a client once a website is done. Inevitably this will lead to either a problem that needs fixing or a new feature that needs adding.

Picking up an old project after months or years can be a nightmare, particularly when you’re troubleshooting a problem. Comments and documentation can help ease you back in, but there’s no substitute for maintaining some level of familiarity with the code base.

I’d go a step further, however. Small, gradual change is a lot easier to implement than a large-scale refactor, so it can be a worthwhile use of the occasional hour to rewrite or restructure in order to keep the code up to current standards in advance of a new project.

See the common threads and learn to save time going forwards

A key principle of software development is DRY – Don’t Repeat Yourself. Nevertheless it’s very easy to find yourself coding the same thing again and again due to a lack of modular code.

Looking back at old projects can allow you to identify common functionality that’s going to keep coming up, and will allow you to work on making it a modular package you can just include in a project.

Analyse, plan, improve

Mistakes are painful, to make and also to remember. But they’re also a very effective way to learn.

Taking the time to revisit your mistakes (and your triumphs) can give you perspective on what works and what doesn’t. If you can factor this in to your planning for your next project it will help you play to your strengths.

Seeing how far you’ve come is a morale boost

Project work is often breakneck in its pace, and you can find yourself completely absorbed in the current piece of work.

In my experience it’s a real boost to step back and look at all you’ve accomplished. Seeing a complete project is very satisfying, but realising how much better you have become since then is even more so. Improvement is something we all strive for, and the joy of project work is that we have a clear record of our own progression.


I hope I’ve convinced you of all the positives of diving into finished work. Yes, it may be painful to see your old mistakes and inefficiency, but that’s far outweighed by the value you will get.