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Running a Lean Coffee Online with MURAL

Lean Coffee is "a structured but agenda-less meeting". It is an effective way to facilitate Q&As and other sessions in a participatory way. It helps avoid filibustering and keeps discussions on track.

A lean coffee session is probably most effective co-located in front of a whiteboard, but can definitely be run online as well. You can use a specialized application like Lean Coffee Table, there are power-ups for Trello, and you can probably get away with something simpler still.

Personally I have very good experience using MURAL for online workshops, including Lean Coffee sessions.

This article is based on my Lean Coffee MURAL Template. Feel free to use it as-is or modify it to meet your needs.

For the rest of this article I briefly explain how to use the template.

Step 1: Gather Topics

The first step in a Lean Coffee session is to have participants come up with topics or questions, and write them on sticky notes.

I usually timebox this part to between 5 and 15 minutes.

Step 2: Vote

When you have enough topics it is time to vote. Use the built-in voting function in MURAL for this. Give people three to five votes each.

Tip! Share the board with people beforehand so that they can post topics ahead of the meeting.

Step 3: Select Topics

Once people have voted move the top voted items to the "Selected & Prioritized" column. When this is done it's time to start talking!

Step 4: Discuss Items

Select the item at the top of the selected column.

Use MURAL's built-in timer feature to set a timer for five minutes. Then start talking. If needed, ask the writer to briefly explain the note.

When time is up participants decide together if you should continue for another three minutes, or move to the next topic.

If you continue set a new timer - but for three minutes this time. You can continue like this until the majority wants to move on, or decide that you only stay on one topic for a set number of rounds.

I have opted for a very basic type of roman voting as setting up and running regular voting sessions takes too long in my opinion. Instead I simply ask people to move their mouse over either 👍 or 👎 and decide from that. (They might need to move it around a little to make the mouse pointer show up.)

Once enough people want to move on place the item in the "Already discussed" area and pick the next item from the "Selected" column.

Tip! The five and three minute timeboxes are only recommendations. You can experiment with other iteration lengths. It's usually good to have a longer first one though.

Conclusions

Running Lean Coffee sessions online work well. It helps having a good tool, no matter whether it is a dedicated app or using a template in an online whiteboard like Miro or MURAL.

What's your experience running Lean Coffee with distributed teams or online? Do you have any tips you want to share?

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