Lean Coffee

For years I’ve been doing and suggesting others try running small meetings in a style informed by open space. The approach is simple: invite the people into some purpose (even if it’s the weekly staff or team meeting), show up for the meeting, create the agenda (issues and issue owners), and then just start picking off the issues, one by one. Choose the most important ones, the easiest ones, the most complex, according to group preferences, informally polled. Sometimes we’ve created two agendas by tagging some issues for “whole group” and others for “anyone who cares.” The latter sessions are then run in parallel, more true to open space, rather than in series with the whole group’s attention.

The way I understand it, Lean Coffee, a marriage of Kanban and Open Space (the coffee), adds timeboxes to the process, which apparently keeps the work clicking along and engagement high. The group votes more formally on which issues to discuss. Each discussion gets a 5-7 minute timebox and the potential to be voted into a 2-3 minute extension of that. If conversations need to continue, they can spin off into a separate table. Usually this would be done with a group small enough to sit around a single table, cafe or conference room size, and the whole affair might last 60-90 minutes. It’s guided by two Kanban principles: visualizing the work agenda (on a tabletop or in an shared online posting tool for virtual coffees) and limiting the work in progress at any one time. Use for learning community meetings, agile retrospectives, and quick status checks in community meetings or other working groups. Online tabletop tool options include trello, etherpad, hackpad, and google docs. Harvesting takeaways at the end is one option for closing.

Thanks to Harold Shinsato for this learning.