If you’re like most agile practitioners, you’ve found yourself trying to unravel a thorny problem in the midst of a planned fifteen-minute daily scrum. Exasperated at your inability to explain yesterday’s woes in under a minute, the ScrumMaster suggests the challenge be resolved in “the parking lot.” But what exactly does this mean and, as important, how do you get your problem solved in the first place? Let’s talk about the ways to use – and not to use – the parking lot.

What Goes in the Parking Lot

Within Scrum, the daily scrum is extremely well-defined. It includes what you’ve done, what you’re going to do and what hurdles are getting in your way.

In some cases, hurdles are easily overcome. For instance, perhaps you’re waiting on a piece of code from another team member who’s unavailable to help until tomorrow. In that scenario, there is a “hurdle,” but everyone on the team is clear when it will be resolved.

More often, though, your hurdle might be one that you’re entirely unsure how to overcome. Whether an API has stopped working, or something you wrote is performing in an entirely unexpected way, sometimes you’re just stuck. And for those purposes, it’s entirely appropriate to ask that the issue be placed into the parking lot.

Why You’re in the Parking Lot

Faced with the short time period of a daily scrum, there’s often a lot of pressure for everyone to get their say in. As such, the stand-up rarely allows time for feedback from other team members. For that reason alone, issues where you need help or ones that warrant additional discussion belong in the parking lot. Once the meeting agenda turns to the parking lot, you’ll find more mouths and minds open, which is critical to getting you over that hurdle.

When You’re In the Parking Lot

Parking lot items are intended to be addressed once everyone in the group has given their daily report. Like many Scrum practices, they should also be time-boxed and limited to fifteen minutes. In doing so, the total time period for the daily scrum should not exceed thirty minutes.

That said, software is tricky and it’s reasonable that if you couldn’t solve your challenge in a day’s worth of work, your team members might not be able to resolve it within an even shorter amount of time. So if you find yourselves up against the fifteen minute window allotted for the parking lot, encourage those actively involved in the discussion to schedule additional time to resolve the issue.

Who’s in the Parking Lot?

Earlier, we mentioned that the parking lot only occurs after everyone in the daily scrum has given their report. There’s a reason for this. Once the parking lot begins, the ScrumMaster lists all of the items in the parking lot. Once this is done, the ScrumMaster should next ask who needs to remain to discuss the issues. Sometimes this could be the entire team, but most of the time, it isn’t. Those who aren’t actively involved in the solution should be encouraged to leave the call. This optimizes the time of the people not impacted by the issue and ensures that the people who remain are the ones with the greatest ability to impact the solution.

Keeping this in mind, savvy ScrumMasters will order the parking lot issues in such a way that the ones requiring the most team members should be addressed first, and then progress to issues involving sequentially fewer people, saving resources with each possible step.

Are You Managing the Parking Lot Properly?

Pay attention to your next daily scrum. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are team members reporting progress or discussing problems? The former belongs in the daily scrum and the latter should be in the parking lot.
  2. Are the people that remain in the daily scrum after the update actively involved with the issues you’re discussing in the parking lot? If not, move the order of your issues around.
  3. Is your total daily scrum, including the parking lot, exceeding thirty minutes? Chances are you can do it faster.

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