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How to plan a coding project in 8 easy steps

Sep 18, 2020 - 13 min read
Ryan Thelin

Coding projects are one of the many ways you can learn the coding skills you need. Some people think that only experienced programmers can complete a project. In fact, there are projects available for all skill levels across many different programming genres.

If you’ve never completed a project before, they can be intimidating to start. Today, we’ll learn what projects can do for you and how to plan your next coding project from start to finish in just 8 steps.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

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What can projects do for you?

With so many ways to learn to code, why choose a project? The truth is, projects have some real benefits to your learning and career. With projects, you can:

  • Practice practical coding: Lessons and practice problems are great, but can become boring if that’s your only medium. Projects allow you to break away from bookwork and practice coding in a product-driven way. Plus, it’s fun to make something from scratch!

  • Experience the development lifecycle: Most coding practice curriculum tests your ability to write code to a prompt. However, code creation is just one step in a professional programmer’s development process. Projects give you experience with all steps expected of on-the-job programmers, from conception to completion.

  • Build your resume: Projects are a great way to show companies that you have both coding skills and the ability to apply them. Projects require attributes all employers look for in fresh hires: personal dedication, time management, troubleshooting abilities, lived experience, and more. You can use completed projects to prove you have all of these desired qualities and set yourself apart from the competition.

Tip: Company-Targeted Projects

If you’re interested in a particular company or field, complete projects that directly relate to your target job. For example, a data-tracking project is better to help you land a data analyst position rather than a UI design position.

Why plan a project?

Many eager learners make the mistake to jump right into their project without proper planning and wind up stuck or burnt out. Others are intimidated by a project’s scale and don’t know how to begin. Experienced developers avoid these problems with a comprehensive project plan.With planning, you can:

  • Break down projects into approachable steps
  • See the full scope of the project all at once
  • Keep in mind which components will interact
  • Avoid overlapping components
  • Anticipate bugs
  • Scale within particular restrictions

Projects can be a difficult test for any level of developer, especially for those working with system design. If you make a good plan and stick to it, you’ll help yourself greatly in the long run. This is a career-long skill that can take your coding skills to the level.

Next, we’ll break down the 8 essential steps to plan your next coding project.


1. Decide on your project

The first step is always to decide what project you want to tackle. There are tons of suggestions fit for different skill levels all across the web. Or you can make one up on your own!

Try to choose a project that overlaps multiple skills you want to learn. For example, if you want to become more organized you might choose to create a scheduling app that displays a summary of your week every Monday. Overlapped topics will keep your project exciting and help you learn both skills at the same time.

If you can’t decide on a topic, instead think about a problem you encounter regularly. Then, design something that would help solve that problem. For example, a problem might be that you have lots of streaming services and want to find the best price for movies. You could make a web scraper that scans the sites of each streaming service for each movie’s price.

For resume builder projects, make sure that whatever you decide has some relevance to the role you’re interested in. These projects go a long way to establish your professional ability!

At this stage, don’t worry how you’d accomplish your project or what tools you’ll use. For now, just keep it in the “what if” phase.

Choose something fun

You’ll put many hours into this project, make sure you choose something that excites you and makes you happy. Don’t be afraid to skip common project topics if you have an idea that represents your uniqueness!

2. Check online for similar projects

Once you have your idea, search online for others who’ve worked on similar projects. Many developers post their projects online for feedback and to inspire others. Especially in the open-source community, there are seemingly endless projects for you to look through.

Create a list with links to each similar project you find.

As you look through similar projects, see what problems they encountered and how they overcame those problems. You can use this information to anticipate problems in your own project. You can also use their solutions as a starting point. Also, add any sites or forums that have project feedback to your list.

You can post your project after each step and see what your peers suggest to improve your work. The online community is eager to help learners like you! There’s no shame in getting a second opinion to find where you could do better.


Found someone who completed a similar project to you? Try to contact them to be your mentor!

Mentorships are common in the online developer community. They can give you extensive feedback, help lead you to your own solutions, give you tips on tools or techniques, and help keep you accountable to your deadlines.

3. Choose your language and tools

Your next step is to decide what language and tools you’ll use to create your project.

If you want to learn a particular language, choose that language. If you’re undecided on language, consider what type of language would benefit the project most. Some languages are better suited to certain tasks than others. Here’s a list of common project types with the languages they’re most suited for:

  • Web Applications: JavaScript, PHP, Ruby, HTML/CSS, TypeScript
  • Mobile Applications: Swift, Java, JavaScript, Object-C
  • Enterprise Applications: Java, C#, C++, ErLang
  • Analytics & Machine Learning: Python, R, Clojure, Julia
  • Data Visualization: Python, R, Java, C#
  • Big Data: Java, Python, R, Scala, Clojure
  • Data Storage: SQL, C#, Java, Python

You’ll also have to decide on a text editor to write your code on. I recommend you look for one with features like syntax highlighting, folder management systems, find and replace functions, auto-complete tools, and FTP integration. You likely already have one that you’re working with, but it can’t hurt to try something new.

Here’s a list of the most popular text-editors:

  • Sublime Text: Sublime text has all the tools we want and looks great. It’s simple for beginners but also has the potential for great things in the hands of a master.
  • Notepad++: Notepad++ is an open-source text editor for Windows. It too is easy for beginners to pick up but can be optimized in the hands of an experienced user.
  • Vim: Vim has been popular for its unparalleled. You can edit any of the shortcuts in its keyboard-based system to create the perfect control settings for your specific project.

Note: You may prefer to work with IDE, and that’s perfectly fine. Whatever is best for your needs.

Some projects may also require a software framework. These frameworks work on top of programming languages to simplify the development of specific tasks. Here’s a list of the popular frameworks used in different programming fields:

Web Development:

Mobile Development

Data Science:

  • Apache Spark (Java, Python, Scala, SQL)
  • Pytorch (Python, C++)

Note: Frameworks are common in development teams across the industry. Projects are a great way to show employers your knowledge of their chosen framework. Look for what frameworks are requested on your desired job’s description and select a project


4. List all features and entities

Next, you’ll want to hit the drawing board and list all the features your program will have. These will be project steps down the line. For now, list all essential and bonus features that would improve your project. For example, imagine you want to create a webpage with accounts. You’ll need a log in, a way to set/change passwords, and a nonessential bonus could be to add a profile picture feature.

Once you have a full list of features, split them into essential and nonessential features to help prioritize. Once we implement all the essential features, we’ll have a program skeleton that we can add to.

Now, list out all the entities who’ll be involved in your program. A good way to do this is to look at your features and ask what entities must interact to make it happen. If you repeat this for every function, you’ll have found all the entities involved in your program.

For example, if you create a webpage there would be two entities: the user and the webserver.

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Features and Entities Lists

5. Map the project architecture

Now we’re going to make a flowchart of our final project. I recommend doing this with sticky notes or digitally so you can move the pieces around. Put each feature into a box and post it on the same board.

Then go through each feature and connect it to the relevant features with a line. These can be features that work in tandem or features that occur at a different time in the program. In other words, how will a user progress through your different program features?

Make sure to mark any point in the program where you have branching paths. These will become decision points in your program. Also, write which entities are involved in each feature within the feature box. This flowchart will act as a blueprint for your program’s structure.

Once you have your flowchart, write different types of inputs that a user might do in different colored boxes. Trace each input through the program and see which points it touches as it progresses through the program. Document these. If you find an unsupported input, create the features needed to handle it.

Here’s an example of a program flowchart:

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Program flowchart

Here we’ve added the feature to view other profiles and either add them as a friend or block them. This is a decision point. We also added a feature to view our own personal profile as a central return point for the user.

Don’t be afraid to add new features if you think of them while planning the architecture.

6. Mark entities for setup

Next, look through the list of features and entities. Decide which entities you’ll need to set up using another tool. Write down the entities that must be set up and what tool you’ll need. You can always change this medium later. For now, just put the first applicable tool that comes to mind as a default plan.

For example, a website project would have a site server as an entity. You’ll have to set up this server outside of the program before you can use it. You decide you’ll use a virtual server to keep things simple. With a quick web search, you decide that Apache would allow you to do that. You write down Apache on the webserver entity and mark “access of virtual server” as an essential feature.

7. Add pseudocode to your diagram

Now we’ll think about how we’ll implement each feature on the UML flowchart. Consider each feature and write the general type of programming structure you think it’ll need. Then write how you might connect each feature on the connector line. Remember to consider the different inputs that’ll be handled and which features will be connected.

For example, we may use objects to represent each user, a function to set up a new user, and a hash table to sort the users.

Don’t worry about what the optimal choice is at this stage, simply draw from your programming instincts. Pseudocode helps you think about how you’ll set up the program solutions without the limitations of syntax. You can always change these decisions later when you begin coding the feature.

Don’t get stuck in research

When you don’t know how to add pseudocode to a feature, put a limit on how long you can research to find a programming structure. Quick research can help you get a refresher on how a certain structure works. However, it’s easy to get sidetracked on this step in a search for new syntax.

Take a look at how we’ve enhanced our flowchart with pseudocode:

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Program flowchart

8. Make a schedule

The final step is to set deadlines to complete each feature. Set the most essential feature first, then features that connect to that, and so on. Eventually, you’ll have a timeline for all essential features. If you have any nonessential features, include them on the schedule after the final essential feature.

Make sure these deadlines are from reasonable but not overly generous time estimations based on the complexity of each feature. It’s important to make these distinct dates for each part so you can stay on track and divide the work across a manageable period.

Put them in your calendar and set reminders to increase personal accountability. Also, set apart a regular designated project work time each week. You’ll find it easier to make progress if you make it a routine.

A schedule will also ensure that you know what feature you’ll work on next. This certainty allows you to avoid decisions during your work time. If you have time to work on the project, you can just check the schedule and work on the next part. No consideration is needed!

Accountability: Tell a friend

If you’re worried about keeping your schedule, tell a friend, coworker, or peer about your completion goals. Many people find it easier to stick to deadlines if others will know if they miss it. Some developers even livestream their project work online to keep themselves accountable to their deadlines.

Wrapping up

Today we learned what coding projects can do for you and how to plan a project in 8 steps. Hopefully, these tips will make you better equipped to tackle your next coding project. Don’t give up if you get stuck along the way. It happens to even the best developers.

If you want to take your coding projects one step further, consider looking into open source projects. These cooperative projects allow you to combine your efforts with your peers to make something great. Start contributing!

To help you learn more about Git and Github, we’ve put together A Guide to Git & Version Control. This course will teach you techniques used to manage and progress their projects. By the end, you’ll learn how to use Github repositories and advanced concepts like merging and rebasing.

Happy planning and have fun!

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