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Getting Started with Lean Coffee

What can a cup of Joe do for your business or IT operation? Dan Delany for New Relic writes about how Lean Coffee, an extension of “un-conferences” like BarCamp, has been gaining momentum throughout the business world. Delany’s Portland-based software development crew adds their own twist by using Kanban to track discussions. In addition to the Kanban, Delany and his compatriots have their own version of Lean Coffee which involves the basic steps of: 1. Brainstorm discussion topics, 2. Vote on topics to discuss, and 3. Set a time limit on each topic (he calls it ‘timeboxing’).

Coffee Wisdom

Several strands of wisdom run through Delany’s brief discussion on Lean Coffee. His team realizes that they become more aware of when a topic strays and therefore have an easier time staying on track. He also notes how the process of voting down topics is an effective way to eliminate unproductive communication. Perhaps his most central insight, Delany is reminded through participating in Lean Coffee that software development is a team sport. He offers reflection on this point:

…one of our discussions was about remote workers and I heard a lot of ideas that hadn’t occurred to me. None of the insights were difficult or profound. (After all, it’s hard to go very deep in a five-minute discussion.) But simply being asked, ‘Have you thought about X?’ can help open up a mental block.

Let there be no doubt about it, solutions are the goal of Lean Coffee. What this approach carries that other methods miss is the power of group thinking and idea-sharing. In sum, Lean Coffee takes down the structure surrounding formal office meetings to combine open communication with a lot of caffeine and a little bit of chaos.

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About Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson is a staff writer for CAI's Accelerating IT Success. He is an intern at Computer Aid Inc., pursuing his master's degree in communications at Penn State University.

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