Lean Coffee

I’ve been attending for a month or so a Lean Coffee group in my home town recently and I liked the format so much that I thought I would try it with my team.

We haven’t had a team meeting for quite a while, so I thought it was about time that we had one and I decided to use this format. I should mention that I am not the team lead, nor am I senior in the team. It was just something I thought we should do. My manager agreed to give it a go, so we did.

The Premise

The idea of the Lean Coffee is to let everyone have their say if they want to, the team themselves makes up the agenda. It is not set by anyone in particular.

So, how do we do it?

Tools needed

  • A bunch of Post-It notes.
  • Pens
  • A timer (Usually a phone)
  • That’s it!

Setup and Run

I create 4 columns, To-Do, Doing, Done and Actions using the Post-It notes. Much like a Kanban board.

Everyone gets to write on a post-it note any topic that they want to talk about. One topic per post-it. I didn’t limit the topics to work, but naturally it goes that way.  The topics are then placed under the To-Do column. At the moment, its first come first served, but we may add prioritisation if it becomes an issue in the future. I’ll go through that at the end. If for example, the manager has something to let the team know about, they raise it as a topic. If someone wants to know what everyone else is doing, they raise it as a topic. If someone wants to talk about the latest Miley Cyrus album, they raise it as a topic. No one has done that yet by the way.

We start at the first topic, We move the topic in the “Doing” column and we set the timer to 5 minutes, the person who raised it does a quick intro on the topic, then as a team we discuss. Once the time runs out, then everyone votes to determine if they want to continue, or drop the topic. We do this with “Thumbs up” to continue, “Thumbs sideways” if you don’t care and “Thumbs down” if you want to move on. Its very Democratic. If the conversation looses steam before the timer goes off, then we move on anyway. Once complete, the topic then is moved to the done column. If there are any actions that need to be taken, they are written to a new post-it note and added to the “Actions” column. Actions may be something that needs to be followed up, a little test or a piece of work that needs to be done. Once the topic is finished, we repeat the process for the next topic.

As the discussion progresses, ideas for new topics can come up. When this happens, you just write them down on a post-it note and add it to the end of the list. Sometimes they are tacked on to a topic that is already listed – as an addendum.

The process continues until the time-box runs out or there are no more topics to discuss. Currently the meeting is scheduled for an hour. We have very rarely gone over an hour and if we do, its only been for a few minutes.

I have deviated from the standard Lean Coffee rules slightly and borrowed a few Waigaya, a practice done at Honda.

The rules are:

  • Everyone is equal during Lean Coffee. There are no titles.
  • There is no blame.
  • Ideas are debated until they are proven valid or rejected.

Its very simple, it gives everyone the opportunity to have their say and they have their 5 minutes of fame.

So far its working, but it is early days. Currently we are doing this weekly which personally I think is too frequently, fortnightly I think would be better, but it is what the team decided.

My challenge at the moment is to try to get the team to own the process. What I don’t want happening is that if I’m on leave or held up due to another meeting, that the meeting doesn’t happen or the team sits around waiting.


I mentioned previously that you can prioritise cards. The way that is done is that everyone gets 3 dots that they can place next to a topic they wish to discuss. They can place them all on one topic, or distribute them to 3 topics. However they want. The topic with the most dots is first, the one with the next highest is second and so forth. Very simple. If you want, you can vary the number of dots based on how many team members you have, or time. For example decrease it to 2 dots or 1 dot. Or even increase it to 4, although that may get a little chaotic, I suggest leaving it at 3 dots or less.

In Closing

The Lean Coffee method seems to be a good way to manage general discussion meetings. I wouldn’t recommend it for a meeting on a specific topic, but it is a democratic way to let everyone have a say. Get their point across and most importantly, be listened to.

To learn more about lean coffee meetings, see http://leancoffee.org/ and I suggest looking one up in your city and trying it out. I find that at my local one, I learn quite a lot and get different perspectives from other people who do Agile in the community.

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