Where it came from
In 2009, Jeremy Lightsmith and I were sitting at a coffee shop wondering about how to start a new Lean-thinking community of practice in Seattle. This sounded like a great idea, but neither of us had enough time to devote to running yet another professional organization.
So I suggested that we make it self organizing. We find a place, a time, and an open-but directed, format.
Value Through Flexibility
Each Lean Coffee Meeting works like this:
- Framework: Draw a Personal Kanban
- Personal Agendas: Invite attendees to write their topics on sticky notes
- Democratization: Giving them two votes each, ask attendees to vote on the topics on the table
- Group Agenda: Prioritize the sticky notes
There are three main things happening here:
- There is a tight enough framework for focus
- There is a loose enough framework for new ideas to appear, and
- The framework gives everyone ownership.
Why is this important?
In a Lean Coffee style meeting, no one “owns” the agenda – it is created on-the-fly. A meeting is called with a topic and maybe a few item to be discussed. This format allows the good brains you invited to your meeting (I hope you invited good people) to extend the agenda in useful ways. Since the group votes for items discussed, chances that people will drone or or otherwise hijack the meeting are much less.
Where We’ve Used It
Since launching the Seattle Lean Coffee group in Seattle, we’ve brought Lean Coffee style meetings to organizations including, RW Baird, The Library Corporation, Comcast, Nordstrom, and The United Nations (in offices worldwide). In the corporate setting, we’ve found the lean coffee format to greatly lessen the amount of time wasted trying to “get on the same page,” and greatly increase the productivity and effectiveness of the gathered group.
What This Means
Getting On The Same Page – Most meetings waste a lot of time discussing background to issues that everyone already knows. The Lean Coffee format asks people to write what they wish to talk about on sticky notes and place them into a to-discuss area. When everyone sees the gathered topics, they get context of the topics individually and in relationship to other topics. Seeing this, attendees can quickly align around the topics, their meanings, and the goals of the meeting.
And if they can’t? Well, then we’ve just discovered something valuable to discuss.
Increased Productivity and Effectiveness – Meetings tend to waste a lot of time talking about talking. We will go over the agenda, we will discuss how the agenda isn’t perfect, we will rigidly stick to the agenda. People are frustrated with meetings not because they don’t want to work together, but because they view them as ineffective and, therefore, as interruptions in their day. With a Lean Coffee, groups can create a relevant agenda designed to quickly achieve value.