Having open and productive conversations is a skill that many organizations simply don’t have. The use of the Lean Coffee is a great way to build that capability in support of lean improvements and endeavors within any group.
Lean Coffees were created by Jim Benson and Jeremy Lightsmith. The approach is a mashup of Open Space Technology1 (OST) and Personal Kanban (PK). OST is a process for having a group democratically develop an agenda for conversations and then manage that agenda. PK was developed by Jim Benson for visually planning and managing one’s work. Kanban is used to visually manage the conversation. The “coffee” portion was inspired by Open Coffee, a group that started in Silicon Valley to support aspiring entrepreneurs to connect with investors.
One of the great reasons to use a Lean Coffee is to learn and support each other in Lean endeavors. Mixed groups and company groups meet weekly for one-hour (or longer) in Lean Coffees to get help, test ideas and share progress of adopting a Lean strategy.
Don’t limit the use of Lean Coffee to Lean. We know of one software company that uses a Lean
Coffee for their weekly sales meeting. We also know of an architectural engineering firm that is using Lean Coffees to explore the issues of the business. One hospital project team uses a
weekly Lean Coffee to give more people a voice in the project.
In all cases, Lean Coffee is a “free space” for people to explore issues and concerns that they otherwise don’t get to discuss. This free space gives people a chance to try out behaviors, exercise leadership, get help, give help and grow professionally.