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Paper + Coffee = Agile, Wait What?

Dont worry you did read that title correctly. Well to be more precise it is a way to easily share knowledge with your other teammates and reinforces good communication with everyone. The secondary bonus is that it shows how the Agile process works. Granted it does not show everything but it helps. Here is a quick start guide to Lean Coffee.

"But you said Agile above?" I know I did, unfortunately I did not create this technique and that is the name it was given so I use it anyway. So the first things first you are going to need a whole lot of supplies.


  1. Co-workers or friends(nerdy ones or anyone who likes to learn things)
  2. Pieces of paper / Post-It Notes
  3. Writing Instrument
  4. Time-tracking Instrument

OK so it wasn't that long of a list. The diligent readers will have noticed I left coffee off of the list. So here are the "rules" on the beverage.

  • Beverage
    1. Coffee / Tea / Hot Cocoa -> Lean Coffee - > Work Hours
    2. Alcoholic Beverage -> Lean Booze -> After Work Hours (or a fun work place)

Now here are the complicated directions that will take weeks to fully comprehend.

Complicated Directions

  1. Everyone writes down preferably 2 topics they want to discuss
  2. Once complete everyone get 1-2 sentences to describe their topic (take turns don't do it all at once)
  3. Everyone gets 2 votes to select the topics that they want to talk about
  4. A small mark or dot on the paper will suffice
  5. Organize the topics into a list by the number of votes each topic got

Ok so you only needed a few minutes to comprehend these directions. This is where you get to decide how structured of a Lean Beverage you want. This depends on the nature of the meeting. If this is for work then the best approach is to create a simple kanban board with the columns "To Discuss", "Discussing", "Done". If this is an informal meeting with a bunch of random folks then you can probably do away with the kanban board.

So now for the implementation steps, aka "How do we do this?" Start with the topic with the most points, I know mind blown on the complexity of that step.

Now comes the part with the Time Tracking Instrument, it does not matter what you decide to use, it is easier if you have a displayed timer within view. Set the timer to 4 minutes and start it while the first topic is beginning to be discussed. At the end of the timer everyone will cast their votes.

Voting goes as follows:

  • Thumbs up "Let's keep going on this topic"
  • Thumb sideways "Eh..."
  • Thumbs down "Move on already"

Here are the rules that I like the best for this.

How to determine results from Polling

If in Florida count twice, at least for historical reasons

  1. Clear majority of thumbs up reset timer for four minutes
  2. 50/50 or close enough reset timer for 2 minutes
  3. Less than 50/50 1 minute timer
  4. If this is the second occurence then move onto the next topic
  5. All thumbs down move onto next topic

There is a simple reason why I like these timing limits for the discussions. If you are focused you can have a lot of discussion within 4 minutes, depending on the size of the group. If a topic is well liked then there is no real reason to move on too early but once a topic is on the decline then put it out of its misery.

At this point you can jot some bullet points or key take-aways down on the back of the topic. Then move on to the next topic and repeat!

"Stop right there. You said Agile in the title, was that link bait?"

No, it was not completely link bait. The Agile process is there in the structure of the Lean Beverage.

Lean Beverage Agile Process
List of Topics Backlog
Discussing Development within the Sprint
Voting Completion within the Sprint
Takeaways Retrospective of Sprint

What?!?! You actually tied it in coherently with Agile? Yes I did, and if you apply a hard end to the meeting you can call that your budgeted time as well. Anyone should be able to use this method to actually show how the Agile process works.

Topic Ideas

Now you may be wondering what topics can you use. So here is a short sample list to get you started but there is no limit to what you can talk about.

  1. What you learned in a conference
  2. What are some pain points currently in the SDLC (software development lifecycle)
  3. Latest Marvel Movie
  4. Staff meetings
  5. Brainstorming

I want to hear about how everyone uses this technique!

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