Lean coffee at TestBash

Agile testing days 2012, Lisa Crispin and twitter was the combination of things that gave me my first lean coffee experience. It helped me to meet other testers at the conference, and showed me that I had some experiences to offer others as well as learning so much from them in return.
Fast forward 18 months and after getting accepted to speak at TestBash 3, I email Rosie Sherry and offer to run a lean coffee at the conference. I wanted to pay back and give others the experience I had been given.
What I didn’t expect was over 50 people to sign up to attend. Seeing as the biggest lean coffee event I’d organised up to that point was for 12 people, this would require a slightly different approach, and this is why I’m writing this article. Hopefully it will help you should you find yourself organising a lean coffee with a significant amount of people.

Principles of lean coffee

Before we get into how to scale up, let me cover the basics of lean coffee. 

Basically it’s a group of people holding short, structured discussions about topics decided on by that group. No it’s really that simple!!  Read more about it at leancoffee.org and Agile Testing Days 2012 – Day 2

I’ve tried running a lean coffee with our test team of ~14, but frankly it didn’t work. I’ve since found (and others recommend this) that groups of 6-8 are an ideal size. Any less and you lose the diversity in experience and topics, any more and you lose that intimacy and accessibility, particularly for those of a shy disposition.
But 52 people?

Large groups

5P’s – Preparation prevents …

So here are my tips for running a lean coffee session for large groups:

Don’t panic!  Seriously, it’s not that hard, just read the rest of the tips

Set up – If you know roughly how many people are going to attend, set up enough tables for ~8 per table. Each table has enough pens and postits.

Set up #2 – If you don’t know how many people will be there, then make sure you have a clear idea of where your groups might sit. Perhaps have ‘packs’ of postits and pens ready.


The Process– Write out the lean coffee process on large flipchart paper so that you can refer people to them

Facilitate – with large groups, you will be a facilitator, and not necessarily taking part in the discussions.

Arrival – As people arrive, shepherd them to tables. Start filling tables up rather than spreading people out.

Start – As soon as one table is >6 people, get them started. Briefly explain the process (referring them to the flip chart

Repeat – continue shepherding people to tables and kicking them off, whilst making sure the other tables know what they are doing.

And finally… when you are coming near to the end of the allotted time, suggest that each table does a quick round up

    Things to keep an eye on

    • If someone is familiar with Lean Coffee on a table, then encourage them to lead it. 
    • Make sure someone has a timer (mobile phone)
    • Encourage people to start writing their post-its even if the table isn’t full yet… it saves time, particularly for people that arrive later
    • Some tables will require a bit more prodding to start writing, or a bit of help to get started with the discussion process.

    Final piece of advice

    Just do it!  (it’s really not that hard!)

    One thought on “Lean coffee at TestBash

    1. Chris,

      Thanks for organising this year’s Lean Coffee. I had the same moment of enlightenment with this process @ TestBash 2 – I’ve never received so many new ideas in such a short amount of time! It’s such a valuable tool, I wanted to get my own kicked off at work, but never quite mustered it. This awesome list should certainly help!


    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *