Do You Lean Coffee?

Have you ever used the Lean Coffee format for a meeting?   It’s a tool I’ve been so pleased to use in a variety of formats in recent years.  I’ve used it for governance meetings, team retrospectives, and open agenda meetings where there is no pre-existing agenda other than to do Lean Coffee.

What is the Lean Coffee format?

The following content is copied from http://leancoffee.org/  “Lean Coffee is a structured, but agenda-less meeting. Participants gather, build an agenda, and begin talking. Conversations are directed and productive because the agenda for the meeting was democratically generated.”

1. Set up a Personal Kanban

Simple Personal Kanban for Lean Coffee

In this Personal Kanban we have the items to discuss, what we are currently discussing, and the discussed columns.

This provides a structure for the conversation. Next we populate it

2. What to Discuss

A Populated Backlog for the Personal Kanban

People all get pads of post-it notes and a pen. They then start to add their topics for conversation into the “to discuss” column. These can be literally whatever people want to discuss or follow a theme. Right now, we want to encourage as many unique ideas as we can.

When the ideas start reach a certain point (an you’ll be the best judge of when that is), each topic gets a 1 to 2 sentence introduction. This way people know what to vote for.

3. Vote and Talk

Stockholm Late Night Lean Coffee

Each participant gets two votes. You can vote twice for the same thing or for two different topics. Simple put a dot on the sticky you are interested in. Tally the dots. Then you are ready to have a conversation.

The power here is that you now have a list of topics everyone at the table is interested in and is motivated to discuss for real.

End of content from leancoffee.org website.

Some benefits of using the Lean Coffee format:

  1. It’s highly collaborative!
  2. It supports the discipline of being a self organizing team.
  3. It helps to crowd-source the agenda. People have skin in the game because they got to vote about what is being discussed
  4. Time boxing helps to keep the meeting from getting stale and boring.
  5. The proof is in the pudding. Some of the best conversations I’ve every been a part of have been while using the Lean Coffee format.

Examples of when Lean Coffee may not be the best idea:

  1. You have a very specific agenda that needs to be adhered too.
  2. There’s only 2-3 participants in the meeting.
  3. You are talking with customers or the participants may have never heard of lean coffee.
  4. Your participants are knowingly “anti agile”.
  5. If you know the majority of the participants of the meeting are not typically not inclined to talk in a group. Dominating personalities will control the conversation and others could become bored and find it a waste of time. (with the right coaching this risk could be avoided)

Need more info still?  Here’s a great video showing a sample lean coffee meeting.

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