Stick to your agenda: How parking meeting topics can prevent the loss of great ideas

Meetings are both a plague and a necessary element of any project. It sometimes becomes difficult to keep track of all the ideas, decisions and questions generated during meetings. Let us discuss a simple and applicable solution to every project: every meeting should have its own parking lot for topics or ideas that need to be tabled for later.

In the course of a meeting, you will often have discussions culminating in items that are off topic or that don’t quite fit at that moment. Does this mean that they should be dismissed without a second thought?

I can bet you that this is a current problem in your meetings. What you consider next to solve this issue can dictate how much value you get from your meetings going forward.

The easy solution is to have a very visible flipchart, whiteboard or sketchpad designated as a parking lot. Any of the listed items will work. It will, once the meeting is over, need to be carried out, photographed and documented as part of the meeting minutes. To give it even more credibility and chances at success items captured can already be put as items for discussion in the next meeting or simply added to a running list of parking lot items for inclusion at an appropriate time in the future.

I already see the frowns, that is so old school, some will say, it is still the best and simplest solution that can bring more order to your meetings and save valuable ideas, so they do not go to waste or end up getting forgotten.

Imagine, one, only one, of these great ideas that does not fit particularly well within our set agenda. We are taught early on to respect the agenda, but in doing, so we can “lose” great prospects without even realizing that we are doing so. Only one of these can set a project apart or resolve a long-term issue that was not considered in a particular light before.

So, sit down with your team and put a parking lot process in place. Taking two minutes to set up and bring into your meeting a place to “park” wayward ideas gives us a way to ensure that not only will we not lose them but that we have a process in place to gather these gems. Associated with our parking lot should be a formal process as to what happens to those ideas that make it into the parking lot. A parking lot is only as good as those who know what to do with it. Items should not be listed and then just be discarded, effort needs to be made to evaluate each idea within its appropriate context. We should be clear on how we will use or carry forward the ideas that we accumulate from the use of the parking lot. We also need to define how we check back to validate these items at future meetings and importantly how we plan to “eliminate” these items from this space.

Consider this space, your team’s innovation space. Fostering your team’s innovation no matter how simple it is done goes a long way to make the team flex their imagination muscles when it comes time to solving issues or coming up with the next best thing.

The practice of utilizing a parking lot is far from being a new one and has been around long before I started attending meetings, yet it is still very relevant to our work. What has happened though is that people have stopped using this simple tool and replaced it with technology or other means that have not been as successful.

Not every idea is necessarily a great idea that can all be used readily at that moment, but an idea should be if nothing else documented and pondered later. You never know when that next idea becomes the “idea” that puts our efforts over the top. It deserves more than to be left to the wind.

 

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 Sylvie Edwards, PMP, MCPM, STDC, CMP has 25 years of project management experience spanning various industries and is the owner of SRE Solutions, catering to clients in need of project management course development, education, project risk management, PMO setup/evaluation or recovery services. She has worked with one of the top five consulting firm, where she led projects in the information technology, banking, government, and securities sectors as well as being a manager in the risk management practice. Sylvie writes about risk management and communication.

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