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Lean Coffee Retrospective

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

Sometimes, your team may not need as much inspiration to create valuable conversation topics. 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 helps software development teams focus on the topic 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 process of moving discussion topics across the board. 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.

Setting The Scene

To start the retrospective, explain how the technique works and make sure that everyone understands the process of moving discussion topics across the board.

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.

Ideation

After explaining the 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 private either by using personal notes or adding their thoughts to the team retrospective in Retrium where their input is obscured during this phase. 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 place their notes in the "To Do" column on the retrospective board.

Grouping

To continue the retrospective, the facilitator announces the timebox (5 minutes) and encourages the participants to collaboratively group notes into logical categories or themes 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.

Dot Voting

Sometimes discussion topics are obvious. 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.

Discussion

If dot voting was used, then the team discusses the notes in prioritized order. If not, the facilitator can choose the order of discussion. The team can choose to announce a timebox for the entire discussion (20-40 minutes) and they may choose to timebox the conversation of each individual topic well (5 or 10 minutes) as well. The advantage of this approach is that it tends to keep the conversation on topic and moving 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 discussion of the topic is over, the facilitator should move it to the "Done" column on the retro board, and then move on to the next note in priority order. Some teams also benefit from the addition of an Action Column to their Lean Coffee retrospectives to help capture action items in real-time.

This technique is a way for your entire team to contribute to the discussion and ensure that conversation revolves around topics and issues currently causing impacting in order to find meaningful solutions moving forward. Depending on the team and reporting needs at your organization, the outcome of the retrospective may be reported to the leadership team or the entire company for alignment on goals and additional collaboration toward continuous improvement.

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