Lean Tea – A new Agile Retrospective meeting format

Many of our readers and subscribers – especially those involved in Agile software development – will be familiar with Lean Coffee ™ meetings where participants get together, add potential agenda items to a Kanban board, and then discuss these items in turn, starting with the one with most votes. This is a great meeting format but if you have a ready-made batch of discussion points or important issues that need dealt with then why not cut to the chase? To that end I devised the ‘Lean Coffee with Cream’; but the introduction of cream – i.e. pre-prepared agenda items – breaks the trademarked Lean Coffee model, and I’m a typically British tea drinker, too, so I’ve decided to rename it the Lean Tea meeting.

From Lean workshops to Lean Tea meetings

I am currently serving as a Scrum Master for one of Sopra Steria’s Government sector clients; and my team and I strive for continous improvement. To that end we inspect and adapt our approach to software delivery, and we make good use of our fortnightly sprint retrospectives, mixing up the meeting format from time to time to keep things fresh, and following up on agreed actions. But a couple of months ago we decided to use the time set aside for our regular retrospective meetings and hold workshops on Lean Software Development instead.

In our first workshop we came together as a team to learn about The Toyota 3M model and the three enemies of Lean: Muda (waste), Muri (overburden) and Mura (unevenness). We then took some time in between workshops as individuals (prompted by email), to think about these three forms of waste (and the seven types of Muda in Lean Software Development) and how they apply to what we do. And in our next workshop we shared and discussed our examples of Muda, Muri and Mura, and I documented them all in our team’s online knowledge base.

There were some obvious quick wins which we dealt with – wastes that had not been mentioned in our regular retrospectives – but we were left with a long list of unprioritised wastes. So I turned to Lean Coffee Tea for our next retrospective, where instead of handing out post-it notes and pens to my teammates, I just handed out pens, because I had already added all our identified wastes to the meeting’s three-column Kanban board under “To Discuss”. We had our agenda. Now we just had to vote on those wastes that really mattered to us and were slowing us down.

Our first Lean Tea meeting was a great success: we identified and dealt with our two main wastes and our velocity has increased. I have since used the format again in a retrospective where I asked my team to vote on the five Scrum values they thought we were best at; then I reversed the voting order and we discussed those values with the fewest votes and how we could improve on them. The same could be done with the twelve agile principles or with outstanding action items (in priority order) from previous retrospectives.

So the next time you are looking for a new agile retrospective format why not try a Lean Tea? And consider having an actual cuppa while you’re doing it as tea is said to be good for the brain!

Published by

Dr Mark Ian Williams

I am a Consulting Manager for Sopra Steria, currently working as a Scrum Master in the Government Sector. In my career I've been a Particle Physicist, Author, Manager, Senior Software Developer, Company Director and Cloud Consultant. I'm a big believer in data-driven, agile, digital transformation; but people and the planet come first!

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