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lean coffee

Why Lean Coffee?

Did you ever have someone monopolize a conversation? Did you ever see someone that had a lot to say but didn’t speak up? Lean coffee is meant to give quiet folk an opportunity to get their 2 cents (err… 8 minutes) in. If you hate the conversation, don’t worry… it won’t take the whole meeting! I find I learn more from topics other people bring to the table than the ones I think I want to talk about. This is a good technique for problem solving and collaboration. I suggest people use this technique at work and in the community!


What you need:

  • sharpies or pens
  • sticky notes
  • table & chairs
  • and people of course!

What you do:

  1. Decide on a theme for discussions (...or go w/o a theme if your are feeling adventurous)
  2. Create name tags with stickies.
  3. Create a kanban board on the table with 3 columns – To Discuss, Discussng & Done (or any variation thereof)
  4. All participants write topics on stickies and place them on the table.
  5. Everybody has 2 votes and can mark the stickies with a dot to vote. You can use both votes on one sticky or vote on 2 separate ones.
  6. Stack rank the discussion backlog (the To Discuss column) based on the order of most popular topics
  7. Start a timer for 8 minutes and begin the first topic.
  8. When the timer goes off, everyone does a Roman Vote (thumb up, down or sideways) to denote desire to continue the current topic. If the majority wants to continue, start the timer for 4 minutes and continue.
  9. Repeat #8, but continue for 2 minutes. After this, topic is over.
  10. Move onto the next topic.
  11. Wrap up with a round robin of takeaways (taking a pass is an option too)

Origins of Lean Coffee

Lean Coffee started in Seattle in 2009. Jim Benson and Jeremy Lightsmith wanted to start a group that would discuss Lean techniques in knowledge work – but didn’t want to start a whole new cumbersome organization with steering committees, speakers, and such. They wanted a group that did not rely on anything other than people showing up and wanting to learn or create.

Now, Seattle Lean Coffee happens every week, is very popular, and requires only that someone who has been there before shows up – and even then it’s just so they know where we stash the post-it notes.


LEAN COFFEE creator Jim Benson explaining how you can use the Lean Coffee process in your business.