What Is Lean Coffee? A Guide to Productive Meetings.

Mila Chervenkova

Mila Chervenkova

Marketing Expert | Agile, Kanban & OKR Practitioner

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Reminder: “Meeting starts in 15 minutes”.   

So, here we go again—another notification for another meeting that will probably be bogged down by lengthy agendas and unproductive discussions. In today’s dynamic business environment, where efficient communication is critical for success, wasting time on meaningless meetings kills efficiency and productivity.    

(Now that I am thinking, I can compare meetings to vampires – they suck the energy out of your body and leave you emotionally (and very often physically) drained.)  

To change how traditional meetings are held, introduce Lean Coffee.  

In short, Lean Coffee is a dynamic and innovative approach to group meetings where everyone has a say without having an endless agenda or a facilitator to lead the conversation.  

Whether you've heard of it before or not, join us to discover how Lean Coffee meetings empower teams to prioritize topics and drive meaningful discussions.

What is Lean Coffee? 

Lean Coffee is a structured meeting format that allows teams to have a focused conversation with minimal interruption. In Lean Coffee meetings, there isn't a predefined agenda. The meeting starts with an icebreaker activity, which can be anything from asking people to share their favorite coffee order. This icebreaker is followed by a 5-minute presentation and then an open discussion. The meeting ends with a recap of the discussion and any action items generated in the session.

Lean Coffee offers teams the opportunity to conduct a retrospective, a conversation that is open, directed, and owned by the team. The format encourages all essential ideas to be discussed at the beginning of the retrospective, ensuring a comprehensive and enlightening discussion. This learning-centric approach of Lean Coffee facilitates collaboration through group discussions, making it a breeze to follow and participate in. 

Lean Coffee: Made in Seattle

Jeremy Lightsmith and Jim Benson created Lean Coffee in Seattle in 2009 as a tool to facilitate the discussion of Lean techniques. They wanted to create a group that didn't depend on anything other than people coming to learn and create.

What Advantages Does Lean Coffee Offer to Organizations?

Lean Coffee effectively brings clarity to the team and gets them to collaborate on projects. Its most considerable importance is that it encourages people to be fully engaged in the conversation and provides an open forum for everyone on the team. It also allows people from different departments to work together and build relationships with each other.

According to research, organizations that use Lean Coffee have a higher engagement rate when compared with those that don't use this format for meetings. This is because they provide a space where people can collaborate, share ideas, and get clarity on their projects. The importance of Lean Coffee can be seen in the fact that many companies worldwide have adopted it. Some include Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and more. 

Making Lean Coffee in 3 Steps

Making a Lean Coffee is straightforward and can be changed depending on the situation. The steps to create a Lean Coffee are listed below.

1. Setup a Personal Kanban board

2. Identify What You Want to Talk about

3. Vote and Discuss

Let's explain how each step is performed.

Step 1. Setup a Personal Kanban Board

The process of making Lean Coffee begins with brainstorming topics for discussion. All attendees in the meeting are asked to leave their suggestions. Once the theme is selected, the team can set up a kanban board. Write the topic on the cards, where you add one topic per card. You can set up a personal kanban board with the following columns: To Do, In-Progress, Done.

Step 2. Identify What You Want to Talk about

Now you can introduce each topic from the cards. Describe each idea on the cards.

Step 3. Vote and Discuss

Order the most popular topic in the "To Do" column. Move the top ideas to the "In-progress" column. Set a five-minute timer. This is the initial timebox for a single discussion. When the time ends, hold a vote to see if the teammates are interested in continuing the conversation. This time set the timer for a shorter time and continue the conversation. Repeat this step until the team loses interest in the topic. Move the card to the "Done" column when the topic is out of print. Start the entire process with the next card with the highest priority from the "To Do" column.

Where Can Lean Coffee Be Used?

Lean Coffee is used in offices, meetups, conferences, schools, and universities. It can be used in any setting where people gather together to discuss topics in an agenda-free format.

What Topics and Ideas Can Be Discussed at Lean Coffee?

Lean Coffee is a format for discussing topics and ideas in a relaxed, informal setting. It can be used to brainstorm new ideas, generate content for your brand, or just get some feedback on what you're working on.

Topics can range from standard to unusual and necessary.

  • What are the latest trends in your industry?
  • What are the latest insights into your industry?
  • What are the most important issues that need to be addressed in your industry?
  • The future of your industry.
  • How do you approach difficult situations with different people?

What Are the Required Tools for Lean Coffee?

You don't need any expensive tools to make a Lean Coffee.

  • Digital kanban board (if you run the meeting using a digital kanban board)
  • Physical board or a pad
  • Sticky notes with different colors
  • Markers
  • Smartphone for taking photos and timing (or any other timing device)
  • Chairs and tables

What Are the Lean Coffee Templates?

Lean Coffee canvas to easily create and share them among teams and people. The Lean Coffee templates have features that allow you to put your discussion topics in one place quickly, vote to prioritize topics, set the timer and start the discussion, use majority voting to indicate whether you want to continue, stop, or show mixed feelings about the topic discussion. As you discuss each topic, update the columns accordingly. In the end, get everyone to contribute their insights.

An example of a simple Lean Coffe template includes a digital board, similar to a kanban board, with the following columns - Topics, To Discuss, Discussing, and Done Discussing. Below these columns, there is an additional swimlane where action items must be discussed following the same process as with topic discussions.




Mila Chervenkova

Mila Chervenkova

Marketing Expert | Agile, Kanban & OKR Practitioner

Mila is a seasoned marketing professional with a rich background in product marketing, content creation, and website optimization. Years of Practicing Kanban, Agile, and OKR practices have made her an expert in creating powerful productivity habits.