restaurant-red-beans-coffeeLean Coffee – A Meeting on a Diet

Meetings. A necessary evil.

Most people consider meetings to be a huge waste of time. Too often, we are invited to meetings that have no clear purpose, agenda, or seemingly limits. Some meetings are even scheduled so that “you know who” appears to be busy. Or it seems like twenty people are there to provide status to one project manager.

According to an infographic created by Atlassian, 31 hours are spent in unproductive meetings over a month. That’s a lot of time and a lot of money and doesn’t even account for the time spent in prepping for a meeting or getting back on task after the interruption.

While we may not be able to eliminate meetings entirely, how do we conduct a meeting that encourages participation, is productive and actually results in something of value?

Have a Lean Coffee meeting.

No, you won’t find a Lean Coffee on the menu of your favorite coffee shop, but you may have heard about a Lean Coffee meetup.  Lean thinking, which focuses on reducing wasteful activities so time can be spent on things of value, is what influenced the Lean Coffee method for productive, agenda-less meeting conversations. “Coffee” because a cup of coffee is generally the drink of choice of most meeting attendees.

I like to refer to it as a “meeting on a diet”.

Dieting means replacing the salt and vinegar chips with crunchy carrots and possibly putting less sugar in the cup of coffee you plan on bringing with you to your next meeting. You focus on foods that will be more valuable to your body rather than junky fillers that only add to your waistline.

Prior to adopting a healthier diet, you set a goal and hopefully, one that is achievable so that it sets you up for success.

If you stick to your diet, the outcome is rewarding. You will shed all of that unwanted weight and you will be able to finish that 5K race a little faster or maybe fit into that dress that you purposely bought one size too small.

This is similar to the mindset that is behind Lean thinking.

In a Lean Coffee meeting, the agenda is set by the attendees. This increases dedication and participation. Like your diet, you choose the diet and doing so means that you are more likely to follow it. It also encourages participation by everyone which helps to increase productivity.

Are you ready to put your next meeting on a diet?

Try this recipe:

You will need:

  1. Meeting facilitator
  2. Post-It notes (index cards also work)
  3. Pens or markers
  4. A wall or another flat surface to place your Post-It notes
  5. Attendees, of course.

*If your meeting attendees are virtual, then try Trello.


Determine how many members will be attending and decide whether or not you will break them into smaller groups. The recommendation is to have groups of no more than 6 – 7 people.

  • Choose a topic or theme or “Big Question”.
  • Time box! The recommend time box is no more than 1 hour and 30 minutes.
  • Reserve the last 10 minutes to retrospect.


  1. Create a Kanban board. Create a column for your backlog, in progress and done topic.  For example, “To Discuss”, “Discussing”, “Discussed”.
  2. Introduce the topic or theme of the meeting. If no topic or theme is chosen prior to the meeting, then allow the team to choose in step three.
  3. Create the backlog. Attendees spend about five minutes writing their discussion points whether topics or questions on their Post-it notes. One discussion point per Post-It note. Participants place the Post-It notes under the first column of the Kanban board titled, “To Discuss”.
  4. Pitch it! Introduce and pitch the discussion points using an “Elevator Pitch”. Allow each participant to have about one minute to provide a quick overview of their topic by stating what it is and why they want to discuss it.
  5. Vote! Vote on the priority of the backlog. Dot voting works best. Participants can have 2-3 votes and they can decide whether to vote all their votes on one topic or to distribute them. Allow 2-3 minutes for voting.
  6. Prioritize. Reorder the Post-It notes according the number of votes with the highest votes being at the top.
  7. Begin the discussion. Move the highest priority Post-It note to the second column of the Kanban board titled, “Discussing”. Ask the proposer to explain the discussion point. Set a timer for five minutes. Discuss
  8. When the timer rings, VOTE. As the group to vote “up” if another five minutes of discussion is desired, “down” if they are ready to move onto the next topic or “sideways” if they will go with the will of the group.
  9. Rinse & Repeat
  10. Retrospect

Wrapping It Up

While you may not necessarily lose weight during a Lean Coffee, you may have witnessed higher participation. After all, attendees created the agenda, everyone focused on topics of value and hopefully, everyone enjoyed the format and their coffee.