I love meeting new people and engaging them in conversations. However, I realize not everyone is comfortable doing that. I’ve noticed that having a structure to interactions can reduce the social barriers for those who might otherwise hang back. Lean Coffee is an easy way to get to know a group of new-to-you testers at the CAST conference.

Lean Coffee is a meeting for facilitated problem solving. Participants gather, build an agenda, and begin talking. Conversations are directed and productive because the agenda for the meeting is designed based on the interests of attendees. The format for a Lean Coffee is very simple. This is intentional. It is meant to be the least structure necessary for a coherent and productive meeting. No more, no less. I have participated in several of these events run by different facilitators. I liked the simple style and frequent feedback so much that it was the first thing I brought back with me to work after a previous conference.

The group uses a simple personal kanban board. Each person had a chance to contribute topics. Depending on the size of the group, each person gets a few “dots” to vote on which topics had priority. At established intervals (e.g. every 5 minutes), the group does a “Roman vote” to decide whether to continue discussing the current topic.

When I facilitated, I added a “mercy kill” rule that after 10 minutes we had to move on to the next topic. I wanted everyone to experience the variety of Lean Coffee and knew that our topics were so complex that they could easily take over the entire time we had to meet. (Those topics we still wanted to pursue continued into hallway conversations as well as long-running chats or email exchanges.) As a result, we covered all of the topics that had received a vote. When items in the To Do column had an equal number of votes, I picked one to be the next to proceed to the In Progress column. Any topics we had covered sufficiently went into our Done column.

Lean Coffee always feels like a great investment of my time and I look forward to starting each day of the CAST conference this way.