Lean Coffee Online – Tipps for Facilitation and Tools

Already before the COVID19 pandemia I’ve been enjoying open[1] LeanCoffee online events. I’ve been joining the Lean Coffee people from Cologne, who sometimes offered an online edition as an experiment, and Emily Webber who runs Agile in the Ether.

Every time as an attendant, I was AMAZED by the variety of topics, by the effectiveness of the LeanCoffee method and by the depth of the discussions.

Yesterday I ran a LeanCoffee session again as a facilitator. It was a session for the Corporate Learning Camp #CLC20digital of the German Corporate Learning Community. And again, I was stunned how much a little lean facilitation helps to achieve great outcomes for participants.

Over the last weeks I also got a couple of questions on running a Lean Coffee online. Hence, I decided to use the energy from yesterday’s session and start this little article.

The goals of this article are:

  • to answer possible online facilitation questions,
  • collect tool recommendations and
  • share how my (current) setup looks like.

Let’s go!

The method itself

In case you don’t know yet what Lean Coffee is or would like to have a re-cap, have a look at:

Facilitation questions

Should I explain the method?

Yes! Have a brief method explanation in the beginning. Not everyone is used to LeanCoffee and a common understanding makes life easier for all – facilitator and participants.

How to use the timer?

Best option is: Have the timer visible to ALL participants ALL THE TIME. You can do this by either:

  • putting up a timer on your shared screen as the facilitator
    (for me there is usually enough space to show the timer besides the currently discussed topic)
  • having a separate “participant” (e.g. your mobile/tablet) joining the call and use their camera to live-film a timer device

Second best option is to ask for a time-keeper volunteer. This gives you as a facilitator the space to really facilitate the online discussion.

How much should I facilitate / moderate?

The typical answer is: it depends! 😉 It depends on the people. How well-versed are they already with remote meeting? Can they all use their cameras (or does e.g. corporate restrictions forbid it)? Do they

I recommend three things on facilitation:

  1. in advance: share a remote meeting ‘how to’
    (e.g. Agile in the Ether has great tips)
  2. when actually meeting online: do a little intro on the collab principles before starting with collecting topics
  3. then: go with the flow!
    (e.g. it may happen that people’s cameras do not work, that they cannot access the collaborative whiteboard… dance with it, e.g. improvise using the videoconferencing tool’s chat function)

What about documenting the outcome?

Having a documentation afterwards is nice for participants and eventually for others as well. I’m truly inspired how Emily Webber shares the topics and outcomes of each online meetup on the Agile In The Ether website.

My current setup: let people share tipps and links in the video conferencing chat. Have ONE person collecting notes in a Google Doc. Share that Google Doc afterwards with folks for possible additions.

If you use e.g. Trello, you could live-document within the cards. Again, much depends on the tooling you use.

Possible tools

Tooling for topic collection

Here I am listing only tools that are free of charge and that enable collaborative usage (i.e. everyone can use them at the same time).

ToolAdvantagesPay attention to:
(a plain old) Google DocumentSuper easy to use because (almost) everyone knows how to use a text editor.
Flexible and free access even without a google useraccount (if you create an anonymous ‘link share’).
Prepare a little icon within the document for people to copy and use during the voting phase
(part of GSuite)
Flexible and free access even without a google useraccount (if you create an anonymous ‘link share’).Not everyone might be used to that tool, so a little explanation helps in advance (e.g. double-click post-its to edit them).
Post-its are not super-flexible with regard to size (i.e. text might get a bit small)
TrelloGive you already structure with columns and cards.
Enables you to live-document on the card’s descriptions.
Everyone needs to have a login in advance (otherwise you loose time and people’s patience).
Voting is a bit tedious, you can e.g. let people comment on the cards or “join” the cards they’re voting for.
funretro.ioVoting pretty easy with the “like” buttons.
Pre-defined structure for LeanCoffee is possible.
Also it has a built-in timer.
[cannot see any pitfall right now]
Collaborative topic collection tools
Win10 Clock timer

Tools for showing a timer

Pro-Tipp: pre-configure the timeboxes in advance.

I already tried and can recommend these:

Tools for video conferencing

Honestly I only tried Zoom so far (even if it is not free). Why? Because it just works and is stable. And people usually can join in without having a big effort to register somewhere.

Skype should also work fine but again people need to have a useraccount.

What about YOUR experiences?

This is intended to be a living article. Remember: sharing is caring! 🙂 So please add your experiences in the comments below. Link to existing resources for facilitating Lean Coffee Online. I will update this blogpost accordingly.

Thank you! May y’all stay healthy. <3

[1] ‘open’ in the sense of: open for all people and not for a closed audience like e.g. within a (part of an) organization

Thank you to: