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How to Run a Lean Beer

19 May 2016

Frederic Mastropasqua
Clearly Agile, Inc

In the Tampa Bay area, we have a large local Agile user group, Tampa Bay Agile. Therefore, we've had to create several subgroups and events to support our many members.

One such recurring event is the new Lean Beer event that I have been running, which is also referred to by some as Lean Tavern. I would like to share how we run our event so that it will be easier for others to run similar Lean Beer events.

Lean Beer is conducted in a similar fashion as Lean Coffee. The main difference between the events is that Lean Coffee events are usually held early in the morning. Yes, you can run a Lean Coffee any time, but the downside is that you need walls and the mechanics of dot voting, if it is not held in an office setting.

The idea

The idea behind Lean Beer is that it's a happy hour event held in a bar environment. The events are run after work, typically from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. The timing is great because even if I'm the only one showing up, it's happy hour, and I can relax with a drink.

Running Lean Beer

Follow the high-level process below to run a Lean Beer event:
  1. Find a bar.
  2. Ideally, find a bar in which you don't have to shout to be heard over loud music. Sit where you can all hear each other. We find that sitting in a U shape or sitting at a wide table with people on both sides works best. We have had anywhere from 3 to 23 people show up. Things work best when everyone has a drink with them, including plain water.
  3. Have everyone write something they want to discuss, share, or ask. Write each topic on a piece of paper, Post-it® note, index card — anything, really. Have each person fold the paper when done.
  4. Collect the writings and put them either in a bucket or in a pile. All the pieces should be folded. I usually try to bring a bucket, but sometimes I put them in a pile when I don't have one.
  5. Have someone randomly pull a discussion topic. This is easier with a bucket, but if you don't have one, just mix the topics in the pile and select one randomly. Typically I facilitate this part, but anyone can do it. Read the card to the group. Depending on what is written, you might ask the author to explain or elaborate.
  6. Set the timer for five minutes and discuss. There's no need for a talking stick; it's just people at a bar talking, trying to help, answering questions, listening to an idea, etc.
  7. When the timer rings, stop everyone and ask, "Do we want to keep discussing this topic?" Anyone who wishes to continue the discussion raises his or her glass in salute. There are two options: a) The majority wins, and five more minutes are added on the timer; or b) discussion on the topic continues only if there is unanimous agreement. I prefer the first option.
    Note: Raising the glass should always be an affirmative answer, meaning that you can answer any yes/no question by raising your glass to signal "yes."
  8. If the voters decide to move on, that is the end of the Lean Beer. Toss out the current topic, and go back to step 4. You've now run a Lean Beer.


  • Lay out index cards and pens ahead of time. Ask everyone to write topics during a networking session, before the event starts.
  • If you don't have a lot of ideas in the bucket, try lengthening the five-minute timer to seven minutes.
  • Prepare back-up ideas, questions, or new things to share, and add those to the bucket.
  • If you run out of topics, set a five-minute timer and ask everyone to use that time to write some more topics.
  • Try to find a bar that has appetizers or bar food.
  • If the bar plays music, see if they will lower it while your group is there. Typically, we go to the same bar every month, so we feel comfortable asking for these types of favors.
  • Late-night bars work better because they are typically slow during after-work hours and don't really pick up business until 8:00 p.m.
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