Lean Coffee Retrospective Format for Sprint Retro Use

Ruth Hadari
Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert
Posted on
Nov 19, 2020
Updated on
Apr 13, 2023
Table of Content

Your sprint retros don't have to be boring, blame-laden or unbearable! 

Even if you’re doing everything in your power to make your sprint retros fun, cool, and a little bit different from the norm, unless you know how to run a perfect and engaging retro from start to finish, all of your hard work could go to waste! 

So, without further ado, if you like your retros fun-filled, perfectly formed, and lean– not-mean, might we suggest you try our house blend: the Lean Coffee Retrospective!

The Idea Behind the Lean Coffee Format: A Lean Explainer 

If you're struggling to work out how ‘lean’, ‘coffee’ and ‘retro’ fit together, we totally get you. 

Take your ‘standard’ sprint retro (side point: your sprint retros don't have to be standard in any way, shape or form - the main goal is to improve your devs’ performance all across the board). 

We’re betting that your regular retro is usually pretty agenda-heavy, with a lot of discussion and trying to get to the bottom of what worked, what didn't, and what can be improved. 

But…what if there was the possibility of having a fluid, agenda-less meeting that still motivated your team and addressed any issues from the previous sprint. 

Enter: the Lean Coffee format. 

Started by two entrepreneurs in Seattle, the Lean Coffee idea is, by its very nature, agenda-less. 

Sounds like a potential disaster in the making for your sprint retro? Fear-not. Here’s everything you need to know about how to run your own Lean Coffee retrospective: 

What is the Lean Coffee Retrospective? 

This sprint retrospective format is a great way to ensure your meetings are productive and structured while still giving everyone a say in what should be discussed. 

The lean coffee retro starts out agenda-less, before the entire team comes together and decides which specific points they’d like to touch on in the meeting. Participants vote on the issues they feel are the most pressing to discuss, and everyone has the opportunity to put forth ideas for the vote. Afterwards, individuals can process the different topics that their colleagues are struggling with, and the team can develop their to-do list together as a cohesive group. 

How to Run A Lean Coffee Retrospective?

Here’s how you can easily run your own Lean Coffee retro: 

●      Preparation:

Before the meeting, the facilitator will set up a Kanban board with three columns, including:

○      To Do

○      Doing

○      Done

●      Ideation:

At the start of the meeting, the facilitator hands out sticky notes to their team members and sets a timer. Each individual quickly writes down as many topics as they can think of that belong on the ‘To Do’ list. When the timer goes off, they stick their ideas to the Kanban board under this heading. Then, they repeat this step for the ‘Doing’ and ‘Done’ columns. 

●      Dot Voting:

Each item under each heading will be read out and a dot vote will be taken to see which themes have been repeated the most. Obviously, if some items are receiving more votes than others, this means that they’re an important issue for many members of your team. If this is the case, make sure to dedicate part of your retrospective meeting to addressing those concerns. 

●      Discuss:

Once the topics have been voted upon, the team will discuss each item chosen. They’ll then work together to formulate a plan for the future that will address the issues they faced during the previous sprint. 

Lean Coffee Retrospective Board
GoRetro's Lean Coffee Retrospective Template

The Benefits of the Lean Coffee Retro

Since planning your sprint retro shouldn't take all your energy, it's pretty clear what the biggest benefit of the Lean Coffee retro is: it’s speed! This retrospective goes by fast, is easy to set up and you barely need to do any prep work (aside from collecting a few post-it notes and pens)! 

There are loads of other benefits to this type of sprint retro format that you might not have thought of too! For example: 

  • It’s democratic: not only do the participants get to feel like they’re guiding the conversation, but they get to raise the issues that are truly important to them. 
  • It's a great signpost of what’s really happening: if certain issues keep cropping up, or come up very strongly, you can bet your bottom dollar that there’s something deeper going on than you might have realized. 
  • It's simple, lightweight, and highly effective. It can be held ‘on the fly’, or even with distributed or remote teams

Lean Coffee Format FAQs

When is the Lean Coffee Agile Retrospective used?

This is a good format to use when you want your team to own the discussion and ensure that the ideas that your team collectively wants to discuss are covered.

What is the Lean Coffee Sprint Retro Format used for?

This retrospective format is used to get every team member involved and to let them own the discussion and make it their own. This allows everyone to have a say in what is important and what needs to be discussed so that everyone's voice can be heard.  

Lean Coffee Retrospective
Lean Coffee Retrospective Infographic

Go Lean, GoRetro

If you want to optimize your agile team’s performance while still keeping your scrum retrospectives quick, simple and fun, you need look no further than GoRetro. 

GoRetro is a forever-free online retrospective tool, lovingly designed by sprint participants to make sure your retro is run as productively, quickly, and painlessly as possible. 

It's already widely used by luminaries such as CrunchBase, Netflix, Sonos and more. Create your own lean coffee retrospective board for FREE!

Interested in other retrospective formats?

From "What Went Well" to "Starfish retrospective", "Sailboat retrospective" and more, GoRetro's offers a wide variety of retrospective templates.
Pick up the best template for your team or create your own retro board using our custom option.

About the author

Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert

Highly experienced in leading multi-organizational teams, groups, in-shore as well as off-shore. The go-to person who is able to simplify the complex. An agile advocate, experienced in all common methodologies. Responsible for the entire software development lifecycle process from development, QA, DevOps, Automation to delivery including overall planning, direction, coordination, execution, implementation, control and completion. Drives execution, and communicates on status, risks, metrics, risk-mitigation and processes across R&D.

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