Utilizing “Lean Coffee” for Large Team Retrospectives

Scrum defines the optimal team size as 3 to 9 people.  I’ll skirt by the team size discussion for right now and just accept that there are large teams out there – a couple of which I have direct experience with.  With these larger teams comes corresponding issues; one of which is conducting an effective retrospective.

It is more difficult for larger teams to conduct retrospectives.  It can be difficult to get everyone involved or everyone is competing at once to be heard.  Whatever the issue, the impact is exasperated by the large team size and group facilitation becomes exponentially more difficult.


When we began using a Lean Coffee approach for our large team retrospectives the process became more efficient and effective.  The Lean Coffee facilitation method is usually used to promote learning and I think we’ve put the method to good use in our large team retrospectives.  Take a look at it in the image below and then I’ll continue on to explain how we applied it within our retrospectives.

Lean Coffee

In applying Lean Coffee to the Retrospective, we proceeded as follows:

As in a normal retrospective, the scrum master (facilitator) sets the stage along with gathering and sharing objective data in order to define the focus of the retrospective. The retrospective preparation steps should not be skipped.  If a specific theme is warranted then that would end up being the target of your brainstorm topics in step 2.

Step 1:  Create a simple Kanban –For this scenario, we separated the team into groups (recommend no more than 4 people per group; 5 at the very most) with each group setting up their Kanban as depicted above.

Step 2:  Brainstorm Topics – The topic was to identify what the group felt went well and what we needed to improve upon within the last sprint (no specific focus this time).  Each person independently (no discussion with others) wrote multiple topic themes with one topic theme per post-it.  All of the topic themes post-its were placed in the “To Discuss” column of the Kanban.  We allowed 5 minutes for this step.

Step 3:  Pitch Your Topics – Each individual explained the idea behind any of the post-its that they contributed.  This was done in a concise manner and the scrum master monitored to make sure that nobody was discussing or solving the issue, since this part of the exercise is only to ensure that everyone understands the meaning of the topic theme written on the post it.  We allowed 10 minutes for this step.

Step 4:  Prioritize What To Discuss – Each group member was allocated 3 dots to vote on the topic theme(s) that they thought were most important to discuss.  We allowed 2 minutes for this step.

Step 5:  Manage Flow of Conversation – We determined that we would allocate six sessions of 5 minutes each and would thumb vote at the end of each session to see if we wanted to continue the conversation.

Step 6: Discuss – The topic theme post it with the most dot votes was moved to the “Discussing” Kanban column and the team began to discuss the topic and identify what action items could be taken to ensure improvement in the following sprints, if applicable.  Any action items were captured on the post it.  If we were done discussing the topic theme post it then it was moved to the “Discussed” Kanban column and the next topic theme post it was moved into the “Discussing” Kanban column.

Step 7:  Lock in the Learning – At the end of the last discussion session, we nominated a spokesperson for each group and they alternated sharing their topic themes and action items with the full team.  Time was allowed for discussion.  This step took about 30 minutes and we were able to share and discuss among the whole team 4 “went well” topic themes and 7 “improvement” topic themes (with one topic being a duplicate across groups).  We then took about 15 minutes to record the results and create Product Backlog Items (PBIs)/ tasks to be carried out ensuring action on the identified improvements.

In conclusion, by utilizing Lean Coffee, we were able to separate the large team into smaller groups which later came together to share and educate the whole team.   Separating into smaller groups allowed for better and fuller participation and decreased the usual time needed for the large group retrospective.


  1. Phil .. when I’ve facilitated large groups for lean coffee, I’ve found it best to break the large groups into smaller groups (again 5-9 people works well). This gives more opportunity for everyone to have input. Then allow time at the end to have each group share the learning with the other groups. Then you can capture themes common to the groups versus some outlying themes. I’ve also demonstrated this approach in public talks like at Tampa Bay Agile http://www.slideshare.net/markkilby/how-to-build-a-learning-community-with-lean-coffee-v2s


    1. Thanks for your insight Mark and link to the Lean Coffee presentation. Lean Coffee can be used in a number of scenarios for learning. For those of you who don’t know Mark, he is a very well respected Agilist who makes his home here in the Central Florida area. I recommend you all check out his presentation and web site. Thanks again Mark – always a pleasure.


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