Lean Coffee Staff Meetings

This content is syndicated from Agile Development Blog: Scaling Software Agility by Alex Pukinskis. To view the original post in full, click here.

I’ve seen a lot of bad staff meetings over the years. Everyone feels compelled to attend because the boss called the meeting. The boss sets the agenda but sometimes doesn’t have time to think it through. There are urgent issues that everyone else knows the group needs to discuss, but they aren’t front-of-mind for the boss, so they’re not on the agenda.

What if your staff meetings always focused on the most burning issues? What if you were able to resolve five to six issues rapidly? What if everyone was deeply engaged in the meeting? At Rally, we’ve been using the Lean Coffee technique to transform staff meetings, and it’s spreading throughout the company. Here’s how it works.

First, we gather topics for the meeting. Since we’re distributed, we collect topics all week tagged #leancoffee in Flowdock. On Monday afternoon, I move the topics to a voting spreadsheet. Each meeting participant distributes three votes across the topics they want to discuss. Thus, at the start of the meeting, we know what the most burning issues are.  

If your team is co-located, you can do this with sticky notes at the start of the meeting.  But the advantage of raising #leancoffee issues in advance in Flowdock is that some of them get discussed asynchronously and are resolved before the meeting even starts.

As facilitator, I start a seven-minute timer for the first topic, and we let the discussion run. At the end of seven minutes, I ask for a thumbs up, sideways, or down from everyone on whether we should continue the topic for three more minutes. Once a majority wants to stop, we move on to the next topic. Sometimes, we finish discussing a topic even before the first seven minutes are up.

What’s nice about this approach? We work through the most burning issues very fast. Anyone can raise a sensitive topic and it often gets voted up even without support of the meeting leader. Finally, you can easily sit out of a topic you’re not interested in and process email during that time.

Seven minutes is not a lot of time, and so we tend to move to action quickly. Our R&D leadership team holds our staff meeting for 40 minutes once a week, and we often process half a dozen or more contentious issues during that time.  

How have you been using Lean Coffee in your business?

Alex Pukinskis

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