Microspeak: The parking lot


Mike Dunn wonders what the Microspeak term parking lot means.

I'm not familiar with this term either, and the first document I turned up during my search was a PowerPoint presentation that said "Avoid using Microsoft jargon terms, such as parking lot and dogfood."

Yeah, that wasn't much help.

From what I can gather, the term parking lot started out as a term used during brainstorming sessions. You've got a bunch of people in a conference room tossing out all sorts of ideas. The traditional way of organizing the ideas is to write each one on a Post-It® note and stick it on the whiteboard. As more and more notes appear, you start to organize them by grouping together similar ideas.

Every so often, you'll run into an idea that, while good, isn't really relevant to the problem you're trying to solve. You don't want to throw it away, so instead, you designate a corner of the whiteboard to be the place to "park" those ideas for later consideration. That corner of the whiteboard is nicknamed the parking lot.

The term parking lot then began to be applied to the document that collected all of these "parked" ideas, so they could be circulated to a more appropriate audience.

The term then expanded to refer to any document which served as the official repository of assorted suggestions for future work or discussion. (Known to some people simply as The List.) For example, there is a SharePoint List titled Active Issues and the subtitle parking lot for discussion topics in weekly XYZ meeting. Each item on the list is assigned to a particular person and assigned a priority.

I can't find any citations for parking lot being used as a way to say something like "we'll talk about this after the meeting is over," but I can see how it could be related to the sense of parking lot I was able to turn up: The parking lot is the list of things that aren't really relevant to the topic at hand but which are still worth discussing. We just won't discuss them here.

Comments (18)
  1. SimonRev says:

    My experience with parking lot is similar, but slightly different.  It is a period set aside at the end of a meeting to discuss any topics that arose, but were not on the agenda.  See http://www.manager-tools.com/…/Effective_Meetings_Starter_Model_Shownotes.pdf

  2. xpclient says:

    Because of auto sorting in Explorer, files and folders no longer have a parking lot at the end of the list, and get all mixed up.

    OR

    Giving an option to not auto sort in Explorer isn't yet an idea in the shell team's parking lot.

  3. John says:

    Example:  Metro is a terrible user interface for the desktop.

  4. xpclient, do you ever give it a rest?

    Raymond, I've yet to encounter "parking lot" as well. Is this PM microspeak?

  5. Carl D says:

    I've heard the term parking lot used in much the way Raymod describes since the late 80's.  I don't consider it to be MicroSpeak at all.

  6. Bill C says:

    The American Red Cross uses "parking lots" in their disaster classes that function similarly to those in the original post.  Questions that pop up in participants' heads during class can be written on post-in notes and placed in a designated area.  This allows the instructor to continue the class uninterrupted while allowing for questions to be handled at an appropriate time.  I prefer a more interactive setting and so generally don't use the parking lot in my classes, but I have used the technique when questions start getting out of hand and we're running the rest of running out of time.

  7. dave says:

    xpclient, do you ever give it a rest?

    This blog is xpclient's parking lot for complaints.

  8. No One says:

    @Carl D: The Microspeak articles aren't about terminology used /only/ at Microsoft, it's about terminology used at Microsoft in ways that might not be the norm everywhere else.  So there is, inevitably, overlap.

  9. Dave Totzke says:

    I've seen the term used (and used it myself) in a classroom situation similar to Bill C.  In my experience it was a place on the blackboard (ya, I'm old) where you could park your name during lab time and the instructor would assist work through the list providing help to each person in turn.  We always called it a parking lot but it was more of a queue really.

  10. xpclient says:

    @Tim Hermann, Relax, and don't take it too seriously.  @dave, nice one. :)

  11. someone says:

    >xpclient, do you ever give it a rest?

    This blog is xpclient's parking lot for complaints.

    Except that a parking lot is a place for off-topic ideas with merit.

  12. The Dude says:

    We use it at work as a verb now: "Hey Jim, that's a great idea, but let's parking lot it for now and get back to the main discussion." Ugh. Effing idiots. Almost as good as "learnings." Which is ironically used here at at a place that provides education in exchange for tuition. Double ugh.

  13. G. McConnell says:

    We've encountered it as part of Agile development.  Since you're supposed to work on specific fragments/tasks chosen, sometimes you come up with ideas that might be useful but cannot be done within the current iteration.  So you 'park' them in a documented way to be peeked at later, hopefully to properly flesh out as either an enhancement, a new project, or perhaps a process.

    The Parking Lot.  Where good ideas *don't* go to die.

  14. meh says:

    I suppose this is the opposite of parking good ideas, but I first encountered the term as a verb while being coached for a skydiving competition, although it could apply for any timed sport. When you make a mistake during a dive, the best thing is to 'park it' and keep going. Dwelling on it can only negatively affect performance.

  15. parking lot says:

    definition: a pile to put the managers crappy ideas so he thinks you heard him and will get around to it but really your just going to wait until he is not looking and remove it in hopes he'll forget it.

    Agile calls this the backlog which makes sense. If something is going to eventually ship it should go into the real "todo" list for the product. Everything doesn't have to be planned other than figuring out what because of dependencies has to go first. Otherwise your just grabbing things that will fit into the current cycle and have some combination of critical feature/nice feature for demoing as part of early preview/fun to work on working for them. Having a real spot where things disappear for a future release implies that you think you can plan all the features that you need to ship with before hand and anything else doesn't make the cut regardless of changing market, experience gained working on the project etc. Boo.

  16. Joe White says:

    I've even heard this outside the corporate world — I encountered it at church district meetings seven or eight years ago. The meetings had an agenda, and a certain amount of time was allotted to each topic (because otherwise people would talk forever). If somebody brought up an idea that wasn't directly related to the current agenda topic, that idea was added to the "parking lot" page on the flip chart — so it was only a few seconds' distraction instead of a fifteen-minute sidebar. Time was dedicated at the end of the meeting to revisit the topics in the parking lot.

    I think it was pretty effective. Oddly enough, when we set aside time to talk about something, we spend less time talking about it than we do when we know it's not related to the topic at hand!

  17. Rangoric says:

    @xpclient

    Have you tried Windows 8? I have been trying to figure out what you are talking about with the auto sort for a while, but it doesn't happen with network drives on win7 all the time (which is main time I view files at work), and it doesn't always happen with Windows 8 CP when I'm at home.

  18. xpclient says:

    @Rangoric, it never happens with network drives all the time. Sometimes happens. And it doesn't happen with removable drives or the root of a drive either. But inside local folders, it happens all the time on any OS post Vista. It's design to make users' life more difficult by shuffling all the files around the moment you paste, rename or create them. Just kidding, may be not intentionally designed but after half a decade there should have been an option provided because hundreds of users are screaming in their forums. Read it about it: social.msdn.microsoft.com/…/27314d0a-9c70-4b79-93e7-23fe60e7e374 I must have started a hundred different petitions ever since Longhorn was in beta.

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