January 3, 2017

Ever run a Lean Coffee for Software Testing Meetups before? Looking for pointers!

The Agile End-of-Sprint Retrospective

My favorite part of the Agile Software Development methodology is the End-Of-Sprint Retrospective. Every two weeks, the software development gets to come together as a whole and reflect on just how much they accomplished. During the meeting, they discuss what went well, what didn't go well, what the team needs to work on.

Everyone gets a voice during the discussion: Not just the product owner. Not just the developers. Not just the outspoken. Although it may take some coaxing from a skilled scrum master playing various Agile games, each individual team member, even the introverted ones, gets a chance to write down what the group should talk about, after grouping up similar topics vote on what issues should be discussed, and speak about them.


  • My favorite Agile game is the Sad, Glad, or Mad game, mentioned in Esther Derby's Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great (2006) (Write on a Post-It Note what made you mad, what made you glad, and what made you mad during this past sprint).
  • Make sure to begin the retro with the Retrospective Prime Directive from Norm Kerth's, Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Review (2001)  "Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand."

... I've often wondered if the same methods would work in a round-table discussion -- write discussion topics on Post-It Notes, vote on topics to discuss to get the priority, "timebox" them at ten minutes, then go to the next topic -- only to find recently that Jim Benson and Jeremy Lightsmith beat me by six or seven years.

The Start of "Lean Coffee"

"Lean Coffee started in Seattle in 2009. Jim Benson and Jeremy Lightsmith wanted to start a group that would discuss Lean techniques in knowledge work – but didn’t want to start a whole new cumbersome organization with steering committees, speakers, and such. They wanted a group that did not rely on anything other than people showing up and wanting to learn or create". - LeanCoffee.Org

"The Lean Coffee format is both easy to follow and effective at facilitating learning and collaboration through group discussions. Although the name combines ‘Lean’ (eg. Lean Thinking, Lean Startup, etc.) and ‘Coffee’ (implying casual morning sessions), neither the topics nor the meeting times need be so rigid. For instance, I’ve attended Lean Coffee meetups held in mornings, afternoons and evenings. You can gather at a local coffee house, a pub or at your office. Most successful Lean Coffee groups maintain a reliable cadence, meeting at the same time and place each week or two". - AgileCoffee.com

Taken from How to Run a Lean Coffee by AgileWeekly:

How About A Software Testing Lean Coffee in Boston?

Stealing the concept from the Ministry of Testing - London Meetup, I would like to run one or two Lean Coffees for the newly re-branded Ministry of Testing - Boston and see how it goes.

What I was thinking of:

  • Find a restaurant that seats 10 or 15 (smaller group to start) in Cambridge or Boston
  • Bring along a few pads of Post-It Notes and Sharpies to pass around to attendees. 
  • Have guests fill out Post-It Notes loosely related to Software Testing or QA
  • Place collected Post-It Notes in a pile saying "To Discuss"
  • Read out the topics once to let people hear them, then a second time for people to vote on them -- everyone gets two votes. The Post-It Notes are sorted according to priority. 
  • People vote on how long to initially talk about the subject: 5 minutes or 10 minutes.
  • The discussion begins! Place the topic in a "Discussing" pile. Start the timer on the phone. People then can vote if they want to extend it another five or ten minutes. 
  • Discussion over? Place the topic in the "Discussed" pile, and it is on to the next topic! Take the next one from the "To Discuss" pile and repeat the process. 
... Have you ever run a Lean Coffee before? What do you think? Any pointers?

If you are from the Ministry of Testing - London, I'd especially love to hear from you! 

Thank you for your time! 

-T.J. Maher
Twitter | LinkedIn | GitHub

// Sr. QA Engineer, Software Engineer in Test, Software Tester since 1996.
// Contributing Writer for TechBeacon.
// "Looking to move away from manual QA? Follow Adventures in Automation on Facebook!"

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