From Agile Community of Practice Brown Bag, February 6, 2017
Lean is a methodology for identifying waste, like Lean Sixth Sigma. But what is Lean Coffee?
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. There are currently dozens of Lean Coffees happening world-wide, including Seattle, San Francisco, Stockholm, Toronto, Boulder, New York City, and more.
Essentially you had all these consultants and contractors working out of cafes and they wanted a chance to talk about different topics. Lean Coffee is a simple tool to quickly create an agenda, manage discussions and develop consensus.
The following instructions are outlined in the handout link at the bottom of the page.
- Kanban – a way of organizing workflow
- Dot Voting – a consensus voting tool
- Timeboxxing – setting time constraints
- Create a personal Kanban board with the following columns:
- To be Discussed
- Develop topics: Each person using post-its and pens write 1 topic on a post-it and place it under the “To be Discussed” column
- Clarify topics: Those who proposed topics get to briefly explain the topics they’ve proposed in a sentence or two (roughly 20-30 seconds per topic)
- Dot Voting: Each person gets 2 votes. They may vote for 2 different topics or place both votes on one topic.
- Prioritize topics list: Rearrange the topics from most votes to least votes. This will be the order in which topics will be discussed.
- Set initial discussion time: often the initial discussion time is 7 min, but it can be any increment the group decides.
- Discuss!: Move the first topic to the “Discussing” column and start the timer.
- Vote (hands): At the end of the timer, ask the question “Would we like to continue discussing this topic?” Thumbs Up-Yes, Thumbs Down-No, Flat hand-neutral.
a. Yes we’re done. If the Yes votes outweigh the No and Neutral votes, then move the topic to the “Discussed” column and go back to step 7.
b. No need more time. If the group is not done discussing, add 3 minutes to the timer and continue discussion. At the end of the timer, repeat step 8 to vote.
- Repeat from step 7 until the overall time has concluded or the topic list has completed.
At the brown bag
During the brown bag we attempted using Lean Coffee with our online participants by using a shared Google doc that allowed everyone to type their proposed topics and vote for them. There were some challenges getting everyone permissions to the doc and it was tricky for some to figure out what web page they should look at (sharing the page over video chat or going directly to the doc). But I’m sure with a bit of practice, a team could use this regularly.
A question was asked how I use this in my regular work. I don’t use the entire method too often, but I have gotten into the practice of timeboxxing discussions then pausing at the end of the time to ask if the group is done discussing or can we move on. This brief reflection keeps discussions from wandering too far and provides an opportunity to recap what’s been talked about thus far.
I also use dot voting. It’s quite effective when you need to get overall opinions with a large number of people. For example, we used it at an all-hands with 70+ people to get their opinions on what staff morale topics we should pursue as an organization.
While I might not conduct an entire meeting with Lean Coffee, I might use it during the free-for-all part of the agenda where people can contribute items to talk about. Sometimes people don’t think of things before the meeting or they may be inspired once in the room.