Neil Younger spoke about using Lean Coffee for his test team meetings at last night’s Cambridge Tester Meetup. Inspired by the Cambridge Lean Coffee meetings – which are also part of this meetup and which he has hosted at DisplayLink since the earliest days – he replaced a failing monthly team meeting with Lean Coffee. And he hasn’t looked back. Here’s a few bullet points pulled out of the talk and subsequent discussion.

The monthly test team meeting was failing for various reasons, including:

  • As the company transitioned from waterfall to agile there were other forums for people to report status
  • … and these were generally more timely
  • … and the monthly meeting became mostly repetition.
  • With a cross-site team the physical constraints of the meeting rooms – round a table at each end, with a monitor onto the other team – seemed like a barrier to interaction.

They changed the Lean Coffee format in several ways, including:

  • Cross-site means that post-its are impractical so they use Trello for their proposals, voting and to record the Kanban (To Do, Doing, Done).
  • Often discussions will need to produce actions and these need to be recorded. They have an additional column on their Kanban for this.
  • They felt the need for a way to inject topics that would be discussed without voting – announcements from management, for example. Over time, they’ve found other ways to disseminate this information instead.
  • A facilitator is nominated to keep track of time, but also sometimes keep discussion on track.

There are some other changes from the earlier meetings too, including:

  • They use bigger screens to view the other site.
  • They sit in a semi-circle facing the screen so that everyone on both sides can see everyone else’s face.
  • The Lean Coffee is optional.
  • No topic is off-limits (and topics have included salaries and concerns about the direction the business is taking).
  • The focus is no longer status and more: are we doing the right thing? can we get better? what do others think of this?

Neil’s been very happy with how it’s working and shared a few observations, including:

  • They experimented with different time limits and found that between 7 and 10 minutes work well.
  • They tend to have few project-related discussions because there are other forums for that, including another meeting where testers share information about feature work.
  • Dot voting is a kind of self-policing mechanism, preventing people from riding their hobby horse every week or descending into office politics
  • … and the facilitation means that anything going too far off-topic can be brought back.
  • The monthly cycle gives a chance for issues to be resolved before the meeting takes place.
  • The location of the facilitator changes the focus of the meeting – whichever site facilitates tends to lead more of the discussion.
  • Almost certainly some other format would work just as well
  • … but the physical changes, optionality and voting are probably key to it working for Neil.
  • Other teams in DisplayLink are taking the format and tweaking it to work for them.
After the talk and questions we ran a Lean Coffee session. Details of that are in Joe Blogs: A Meeting.