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Things I’ve learned from running lean coffee and why you should organise one too

I’ve been running a 30 minute lean coffee session in my workplace every two weeks for 18 months now. Our first meeting for this year is tomorrow. I started the sessions when a bunch of people from work went to the Agile Australia conference and we wanted people to keep sharing ideas and other learnings. Now I invite any software developer in the building so my invite list has grown to 99 people but I typically only get about 10.

How lean coffee works: A few people from work got to take part in one at Agile Australia but I missed it myself. So I just got online and read everything at http://leancoffee.org/ I grabbed a bunch of index cards and texters and was ready to go.

I feel it’s super important to my company as it’s the only time people from all the software development teams can meet each other and discuss things. It’s helping break down walls between teams and helping ensure learnings can spread to other teams quicker.

  • Location matters. I started off in the building’s cafe but it would get too noisy when the coffee grinder is going. So we moved to another table in the entryway. I like that we’re highly visible but also in a casual environment. I find meeting rooms too formal. I also like that there are lots of tables so I can split the group up on demand.
  • I setup up one table for the discussion and if that table gets full I ask someone with experience to help run that table and move to a new one. I try and split like this once we hit 8 people. Timing of topics is done on a phone so anyone can do it and once someone has come a couple of times they know the routine and can run a table that has already been setup.
  • I am always prepared to throw in a topic to get things started. I especially like light hearted subjects. Last time my card was “How would Santa write software?”. This is extra useful when I’m going to leave a table to setup the next one.
  • Be a good host and facilitate the discussion. If you see someone get cut off ask what they were going to say at a later moment.
  • Take notes. You never know when you’re going to learn something. But also you might get useful feedback for the lean coffee at unexpected moments. Who else should I invite? What’s a good topic for next time? Do we need to change the location? The time?
  • I run mine for 30 minutes as it’s pretty hard to get people to leave their desk when I’m not supplying lunch. But at 30 minutes we are lucky if we can get through 4 topics. You could do it an hour but I think the energy and attention would quickly drop after that. Also I host mine in the morning as I find it easier to get people to make time just before their standup meetings.
  • I only get a few people attending. And that’s okay but I try and push to get people from different teams coming. It’s all about sharing information and if it’s only a couple of teams then there is a huge part of the company we’re not hearing from.
  • Encourage people to bring coffee and tea. I like the casual feel it helps add.
  • I use index cards instead of post its. I find it works better on a flat table and means I’m less likely to have a texter bleed through and mark the table.

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