Is there any neat clean familiar way to get across the idea of "bike-shedding"?
"Bikeshedding" is when legitimate agenda items or elements of a project which people enjoy or find easy to discuss crowd out important items they don't (example and historical background below).
It's nothing to do with "getting to the point", waffle, jargon or off-topic discussions: the bike-shedder is often making valid points in a perfectly to-the-point way, but are unconsciously shifting the focus and drive away from the most mission-critical areas. It's also often the project lead, meeting chair and/or the most senior person who is most guilty of it - which makes flagging it a particularly delicate matter.
I'm look for an idea somebody can reference (or, failing that, a way to cleanly communicate the problem) when they realise a meeting and/or the wider management or appraisal of a project is drifting too much towards the elements which are easy to discuss or oversee.
- not risk de-railing things further by requiring a lengthy, comment-worthy anecdote or explanation
- not be offensive or confrontational and be appropriate to use when the person or people getting carried away bike-shedding are more senior (e.g. project lead or meeting chair)
- neatly get across the idea that this is a known, real, recognised common trend (so addressing the cause not just the symptom and giving the observation some face-saving authority for more senior hierarchy-conscious bike-shedders)
Among people who know the term "Bikeshedding" (which is moderately common in the UK particularly in engineering, I believe), it can do all these things, but among people who don't, it's no help at all.
Ideally, I'm hoping that in the 57 years since Parkinson's book introduced the term, somebody has found a more diplomatic and efficient way of communicating the idea, e.g. in management books or similar.
Here's an example based on the 1957 book that launched the term, which also explains why it is called "bikeshedding":
Parkinson writes about a finance committee meeting with a three-item agenda.
The first is the signing of a £10 million contract to build a reactor, the second a proposal to build a £350 bicycle shed... the third proposes £21 a year to supply refreshments...
The £10 million [reactor] is too big and too technical, and it passes in two and a half minutes.
The bicycle shed ..."debate is fairly launched. A sum of £350 is well within everybody's comprehension. Everyone can visualize a bicycle shed. Discussion goes on, therefore, for forty-five minutes, with the possible result of saving some £50. Members at length sit back with a feeling of accomplishment.
"[Re. the refreshments]... every man there knows about coffee... This item on the agenda will occupy the members for an hour and a quarter... leaving the matter to be decided at the next meeting."