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Democratising the agenda with Lean Coffee

The open, democratic and quick way to set an agenda known as Lean Coffee, has been working really well for us at our monthly UX meet ups. In the post I run through how it works, why we like it and why you should try it too.

I encountered the Lean Coffee approach a couple of year back at a UX Scotland conference, and really enjoyed the informal, open and best of all simple way in which a group discussion can be facilitated.

Since kicking off the lunchtime UX meet up sessions, I’ve been using it as a means to host a group chat after our guest speaker, and the groups taking part have responded really well.

How Lean Coffee works

This approach is based on the guide by Phillip Rogers, which operates as I remember it from the conferences where I first encountered it. (I don’t tend to bother with the kanban board to map progress as he does though).

Lean Coffee facilitator’s guide by Phillip Rogers on

In a nutshell, here’s what we do:

  1. Everyone thinks of a few things they would like to discuss around the theme of the meeting, one idea (or question or proposition) per post it note
  2. We review the post-it notes together; grouping, clarifying and de-duplicating the items as we stick them to the wall
  3. We all get 3 dot votes each
  4. The top prioritised item gets 5 minutes discussion. I just use the timer on my phone.
  5. At the end of each 5 minute segment the group votes whether to stay with this topic (thumbs up), move to next-most popular topic (thumbs down) or say they’re ambivalent (thumbs sideways).

I tend to find that the most popular item gets 10 or 15 minutes, the next 5 or 10, and subsequent ones usually 5.

At our UX meet ups, with a group of typically 12-15 staying to chat after the presentation, we manage to set our agenda and talk about the top 3 or 4 items in about 45 minutes.

Two people organise post it notes on a flipchart

Organising the suggested agenda items

What participants have said

I’ve lifted the following quotes from the comments sections of previous blog posts where people have given feedback on our sessions.

I appreciated experiencing the Lean coffee method. Many meetings could do with such a mechanism to reinvigorate discussion and debate.

“This was my first experience with the Lean coffee approach, and I found it a very interesting way to hold a discussion… the regular 5 minute segments helped keep the discussion relevant, focused, and well-paced. We discussed the most relevant topics, and we moved on quickly when the conversation began to run out of steam.”

…it’s a great discussion format, keeping the conversation focused and concise.

“I really enjoyed the Lean Coffee format which I hadn’t encountered before.”

Join the community

Read about past and upcoming UX Meet up sessions, where you can participate in a Lean Coffee discussion

Join the UX Mailing list (University of Edinburgh log in required)

Related reading

This technique is just one of many that follow the basic underlying approach we apply to almost all of our workshops.

Why we workshop



11 replies to “Democratising the agenda with Lean Coffee”

  1. John Baird says:

    I would highly recommend this method for running small group meetings. It was very easy to set up, it engaged the participants immediately and the thumbs up/sideways/down meant each topic had a natural conclusion to it. If you haven’t tried it … try it.

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