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The Texas State Lottery Commission Parking Lot

How To Paint A Parking Lot

This post is about time management. Really.

My apartment in Austin overlooks the parking lot of the Texas Lottery Commission, an agency that raises the funds necessary to teach Texan children math by exploiting their parents’ ignorance of the subject. Lots of people work there.

They create new and exciting verbs like “Megaply®” (yes, it’s a registered trademark.) They test balls. And when they arrived for work on a recent Monday they had a brand new parking lot to park in.

I spent the previous Saturday morning watching layers of asphalt being applied. (Yeah, Jack’s a dull boy these days.) Pretty soon I was planning a super-viral stop-motion Vine video of parking spots being painted on this big, fresh, black canvas and estimating the effect on my Klout score.

I practiced taking teensy bits of video with my iPhone clamped to the balcony railing. I figured it would take them a couple of hours to paint the part of the lot I could see, and I wanted to fit as many individual bits as possible in the six seconds available. Excitingly, around two o’clock, the painters arrived.

Instead of immediately firing up their super-cool line-painting machines, though, the two guys started fooling around with chalk and a very long tape measure.  I accepted the delay.  It was laudably professional and workmanlike of them, in fact, to take the time to plan things out. I went back to work, looking out every 5 or ten minutes to make sure nothing of interest was happening.

Round about six in the evening they still hadn’t started, and appeared to be deep in consultation about how early to begin on Sunday morning. “If it’s taken them this long just to measure,” I thought, “how long will it take them to paint the lines? Will the parking lot be ready on Monday morning? If not, where will the lottery employees park? Will they be given Monday off? And what will the children do without their MegaMillions?”

Sobered by these considerations I went out for a quick bite to eat. When I came back, 45 minutes later, the parking lot was painted. Done. Finished. See above. So, no viral Vine video, no Klout bump, just a relatable thought on time management.

As a non-expert, don’t mistake visible progress for actual progress.

I assumed that it would take far longer to spray paint the parking spots than to mark them out — only because marking them out wasn’t glamorous, colorful or noisy. As someone who had developed a (somewhat unjustifiable) stake in the process without technically understanding it, I should have gone over, complimented them on the care they were taking with their tape measure, and asked when they were going to start doing some real work.

Why does this matter?  I sometimes find myself in the opposite position, having a clear idea of actual progress on a web development project, but knowing that the non-developers on the team are only tracking the shiny bit they can see. Accurately conveying time and workflow across the technical divide is my #1 challenge these days.  We’re trying a variety of things to bridge the gap — including putting the non-tech teammates like Tonia on GitHub, giving them an accurate idea of actual progress as well as the opportunity to contribute ideas and prioritize the work.

How does your organization manage the difference between visible and actual progress?