Lean Coffee Glasgow

A few weeks ago an Agile minded colleague told me about a relatively new discussion forum that was running locally in Glasgow. They explained that like-minded Agile proponents were getting together regularly to exchange ideas. What was most interesting was that they were running their gatherings according to the rules of something I had never heard of before:  Lean Coffee. Intrigued I decided to go along to the next session.

In preparation I did some reading and found that Lean Coffee is a relatively new phenomenon which is, nonetheless, quite popular with Agile folks around the world. The format is designed to democratise meetings by preventing any one person from setting or controlling the agenda. The suggested venue is a coffee shop. However, this is Glasgow so the organisers here decided on a different setting: a pub. Great thought I – I get to learn about a new way of running meetings, have interesting discussions on Agile topics and I get to drink beer at the same time.

The next meeting was scheduled for a Wednesday evening at 7pm in a local hostelry called The Crystal Palace. Six people attended (a good number for this type of session as it turned out) and we were a varied bunch. Two, including myself, were new to the Lean Coffee concept and one of us was completely new to Agile. One of the old hands took the time to explain how the session would run to the newbies:

  1. Everyone takes a few minutes to write up one or more stickies with topics they would like the group to discuss.

    Click to enlarge

  2. Go through the stickies one by one with the author briefly explaining their question or topic.
  3. Everyone dot votes on the topics they most want to discuss. Each attendee gets three votes to spend – they can put multiple votes on any one topic and can vote for their own topics if they so wish.
  4. A Personal Kanban is created with three columns: To Do, Doing, Done. Stickies are used to create the headings (see picture).
  5. All topics are placed under the To Do column in priority order according to the number of votes they have received.
  6. The top topic is moved from To Do to Doing.
  7. A 15 minute discussion ensues around the topic. A smart phone is handy to do the timing. If discussion around the topic dries up before 15 minutes then progression to the next step comes early.
  8. The topic is moved to the Done column and the next To Do topic is moved to Doing.
  9. Repeat until the session time (two hours appears to be typical) or topics are exhausted.

The session ran as described and I found I rather liked the format. For a start it is a simple concept. This simplicity meant that the technique was easy to explain and quick to run with most of the time being spent in discussion rather than process.

Secondly the approach has an advantage over traditional meetings where the agenda is typically set by one person. Here all of the attendees decide on the agenda by suggesting topics and by voting for what they want to spend their time discussing. This give the attendees ownership over the agenda and ensures that everyone gets something relevant to them out of the session.

Importantly the attendees collectively  ensured that the session was a safe space where opinions were respected. There were no stupid questions and nobody lambasted anybody for what they had to say. There were disagreements to be sure but these were discussed in a grown-up manner rather than becoming heated arguments or slanging matches. Best of all there was no moderator to make this happen. The attendees moderated themselves.

The range of topics discussed over the course of the evening was varied. For example, there was an interesting conversation around the relative benefits of Stories and Use Cases, discussion around which sessions we were most looking forward to at the upcoming Lean Agile Scotland Conference, an explanation of what Kanban is for those of us who were new to it and discourse around what we were all reading.

I had an enjoyable evening and learned a lot over the course of the session. For example, I picked up two specific techniques which I have since applied to my own team. For the trivial expenditure of two hours and a few pints this was a bargain and I will certainly be attending future sessions. Although I will be referring to the sessions as Lean Lager from now on given the likely venue.

If you are in the area and have an interest in Agile then I would recommend that you come along. Lean Coffee/Lager is a friendly forum for exchanging ideas and networking and is open to all. For details of the next session see the Lean Agile Glasgow Meetup Page.

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