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Lean Coffee™️ Retrospective

"Conversations are directed and productive because the agenda for the meeting was democratically generated." -

Sometimes, your team may not need much inspiration to create valuable conversation topics...but when your team has a lot to discuss, sometimes it's best to set up a Lean Coffee. Espresso not required. ☕️

Use the Lean Coffee retrospective technique when you want to…

Facilitate an open-ended conversation that is entirely owned and directed by the team

Ensure that the ideas the team collectively wants to emphasize are discussed at the beginning of the retrospective

How to run a Lean Coffee retrospective

Before the retrospective starts, the facilitator selects this technique from the options in Retrium's retrospective exercises toolbox. The Lean Coffee retrospective format helps agile teams focus on the ideas that are most likely to have a positive impact on the team's performance by adding sticky notes to the To Do column and then moving them across each of the three columns during the discussion phase of the retrospective meeting:

  • To Do
  • Doing
  • Done

Setting the Stage

To start the retrospective, explain how the technique works and make sure that everyone understands the Lean Coffee template. (Pro tip: some teams also benefit from the introduction of a problem statement to help prompt ideas for discussion!) 

Depending on the size of the team, setting a timebox for the retrospective can help establish everyone's expectations of how much time each discussion should take.


After setting the initial timebox for this step (5-10 minutes), the team should brainstorm and identify topics for the group discussion. While brainstorming, participants should keep their ideas to themselves! 🤫 Keeping ideas private during this stage helps prevent groupthink and ensures that team members aren't swayed by seeing the opinions of others. By the time the timebox expires, the participants should have placed their notes in the "To Do" column on the retrospective board.


To continue the retrospective, the facilitator announces the timebox (5 minutes) and encourages the meeting participants to collaboratively group notes into logical categories, since many notes will likely contain similar ideas. This part of the exercise highlights popular and differing opinions on topics in need of a discussion and helps to ensure no ideas are missed or glossed over later in the retro. 

Dot Voting

Sometimes discussion topics are obvious and the meeting agenda just falls into place. For example, if there are several similar notes on testing, your team has an obvious pain point to discuss. However, sometimes it can be challenging to structure the discussion in an organized way. If this is the case, the facilitator can opt to use dot voting to prioritize the discussion based on the collective desires of the group -- assign three votes per person and allow participants to vote for their favorite topics.


If dot voting was used, then the team discusses the notes in prioritized order. If not, the meeting moderator can choose the order of discussion. In order to make the most of your meeting time, the team can choose to timebox the entire discussion (20-40 minutes), or they can choose to timebox the conversation of each individual topic for a shorter duration of time (5-10 minutes). The advantage of the timeboxing approach is that it tends to promote focused discussion that moves at a faster pace.

As a discussion starts for a topic, the facilitator should move the note to the "Doing" column on the retrospective board. When the entire team is done discussing a popular topic, the facilitator should move it to the "Done" column on the retro board, and then move on to the next note in priority order.  As the conversation progresses, it's imperative that the facilitator also write down each action item that comes out of the discussion.

Lean Coffee is a collaborative facilitation technique that encourages meaningful discussion around issues currently impacting the group. Use this retrospective template next time your agile team needs to hold a productive meeting geared towards continuous improvement.

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