In 2009. Jeremy Lightsmith and Jim Benson were sitting in Caffe Appassionato in Seattle. Jeremy said, “Hey, there are a lot of people in Seattle who are into Lean ideas. We should start a professional association of some type so we could explore them.”
Jim had two immediate reactions to this.
- That’s a great idea.
- Man, that makes my skin crawl.
Jim didn’t want to subject Jeremy or him (or anyone else) to finding space, having steering committee meetings, getting pizza, booking speakers, and then begging people to come. There were so many other groups in Seattle. They’d be lost in the shuffle.
But it was a good idea.
So Jim said, “That sounds great, but we shouldn’t do that. Let’s just have a meetup.” And he talked about how he didn’t want to do all those things.
They talked for a bit more about a meetup and Jim realized that Meetups were just as bad. Where professional groups were too structured, meetups had no structure at all.
He suggested, because he and Tonianne DeMaria Barry were in the middle of writing the Personal Kanban book and it was about all he could think of then, that they put a Personal Kanban down on the table and have one, directed conversation.
Jeremy was all over that and in literally minutes they created the format for open Lean Coffee. Jim and Jeremy put out a simple Twitter call and had a small gathering of about 18 people the first day.
Simply put, we were shocked by what happened next. Not only did the group love the format, but they all immediately went back to work and started using it. It was instantly viral.
Today, there are over 130 local Lean Coffees and the tool is used in companies from startups, to Fortune 10 companies, to world governments.
The technique has become the bedrock of our Kaizen Camps which we do as public or private corporate events.