Uncharted Waters

Aug 28 2015   3:52PM GMT

A Neat Little Trick To Encourage New Speakers

Michael Larsen Michael Larsen Profile: Michael Larsen

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Speakers

Yes, the title is cheesy, but it is not click-bait, I really do think I have an idea to encourage new speakers, new talks and new avenues of exploration and experimentation. The added benefit, it often involves food or, at the bare minimum, hot or cold liquid.

Over the past few years, I have traveled to and participated in a variety of conferences covering a variety of subjects. In almost all of them I’ve been able to participate in an event that goes by different names, but meets the same purpose. Lean Coffee(tm) was started by Jim Benson and Jeremy Lightsmith as a way to discuss Lean business techniques without having to make a big structured bureaucracy. The idea is that the group doesn’t rely on anything or anyone, just people showing up and deciding what matters to them.

Sticky notes set up as a Personal Kanban board.

A simple Lean Coffee Personal Kanban board.

Lean Coffee is super easy to implement. What is needed is a simple Personal Kanban board, some sticky notes, some pens and people. That’s it. All attendees get the opportunity to write down things they want to talk about, with an emphasis on encouraging unique ideas and themes. Once the topics are proposed, it’s time to vote. every attendee gets two votes. Put your dots on the topics you want to hear about or talk about. Then wait. After everyone votes, the dots are tallied, the topics with the most votes go to the top and the rest of the topics are listed in descending order based on their vote count.

What you now have is a list of topics people really want to talk about. Here’s the Neat Little Trick part I mentioned before. As the discussions are going, either record the session (get permission from everyone) or make a simple outline of the topic and the points discussed. Once the topics are covered and you have an outline of what has been discussed, see what the takeaways are. Some of the topics may have nice and clean termination points; there’s a problem, here’s a solution, end of story. Much of the time, the outline produces more questions than answers… and that’s the beautiful thing! Now, you have a topic, you have discussion, you have some conclusions, and it’s likely you have several questions. Those questions are the gold mine. Each of those questions is an experiment or set of experiments to perform. It’s possible the experiments may prove to be fruitless, or they may lead you to a new discovery. Either way, what will result is an experience that can be reported. In other words, you now have something to talk about, and possibly something awesome to talk about!

Seattle Lean Coffee flyer.

Seattle Lean Coffee flyer.

The Bay Area Software Testers Meetup group is doing a Lean Coffee event on Thursday, September 18, 2015. We call it “Lean Beer” because it happens in the evening rather than the morning. Regardless the beverage, we are looking to get a bunch of people together, talk about what really matters to everyone, and then develop a list of topics and areas that people really care about. If you are in San Francisco on the 18th, come join us. If you are not, consider setting up a Lean Coffee event in your area, or even in your company. Chances are, you will find lots of things to talk about, and more important, lots of things to develop future talks around.

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