A "parking lot" is a meeting management technique. It is used to keep a conversation on-topic without losing good ideas that are not relate to the current topic. The parking lot is a list of the off-topic items. If you allow your meetings to wander from topic to topic, it will harm your ability to accomplish the purpose of your meeting.
If a parking lot is not familiar to the participants of a meeting, it is a good idea to explain how it works to the group before using it.
When the conversation drifts off-topic or away from the current agenda and onto another topic that should be discussed, that other topic is noted on the parking lot. Then the conversation returns to the current agenda. Later, the items on the parking lot are discussed.
- Explicitly note that the conversation is off-topic and needs to be discussed later.
- Record the topic. (It is useful to record it in a visible way like on a whiteboard or large paper display.)
- Repeat the current topic and continue its discussion.
- If there is time in the meeting, go through the items on the parking lot and discuss them. If there is not enough time, let everyone know how the parking lot items will be handled (e.g., another meeting).
Put time on your meeting agendas for a wrap-up including things like a meeting roundtable, reviewing the parking lot, and determining next steps.
Make sure you follow through and address the parking lot items. Failure to follow through will make it harder to use in the future because people will feel the need to discuss off-topic items when they come up. Also, the topics that come up this way are often related to risks or necessary activities that were forgotten. Failure to follow-up on these items can cause significant problems for the project.
The follow-up can be at a meeting specifically to cover the parking lot, at other regular meetings, or incorporated into related meetings (such as a meeting on risks). In determining the right way to follow-up consider whether different people need to participate. It's often useful to gather more information or invite other participants to the follow-up. Since the topic wasn't considered in the selection of attendees for the earlier meeting, you may not have the right expertise or decision makers in the meeting where the parking lot topic arose. If the follow-up discussion does not involve all the people from the original meeting, where the topic came up, make sure they are informed about the results of the follow-up.
Once a parking lot or similar technique becomes a familiar part of the organization's meetings, there are multiple benefits. (1) It becomes much easier to stay on topic. (2) It is less likely that participants will be distracted from completing what needs to be said about the agenda topic. (3) Ideas that are sparked now are not forgotten just because they were irrelevant to the current agenda item. In some places it becomes accepted practice for people to write their own topics onto the parking lot list during breaks, so the flow of the current meeting is not interrupted.
The parking lot items can be captured in a variety of ways. Use a method that fits into the struture of your meetings. Some teams will use a section of their whiteboard (physical or electronic). Others will use sticky notes or tape paper notes to the wall or a large sheet of paper or poster board. Still other teams will record the parking lot items in displayed meeting notes or a shared electronic file.
In selecting a method, choose one that fits into the way you run your meetings. Consider the later steps of grouping related topics or of prioritizing them. Another factor is which method will be least disruptive to the initial meeting. Is it better for someone to get up and quietly write or post their own ideas, for them to write douwn the ideas for later collection by the person running the meeting, to have them captured by the meeting's note taker, or some other technique.
- A parking lot is not a technique that is specifically listed by PMI.
- Other terms for a parking lot include: Cooler
- Parking Lots in UX Meetings and Workshops. Nielson Norman Group.
- What is a Meeting Parking Lot. Lucid Meetings.
- 20 Techniques to Improve Meeting Productivity: #5 Parking Lot. Ava S. Butler. December 19, 2013.