Many of you may be familiar with Lean Coffee™, a “structured, but agenda-less meeting”  that happens world-wide as a way of discussing Lean techniques in knowledge work environments.

I’d like to introduce the Agile Potluck™. It differs from Lean Coffee in a few key ways: They’re smaller, less formal, and require more participation to attend. While Lean Coffee is great for talking through the challenges we face in the office, the Agile Potluck adds a personal touch that forges deeper, more meaningful connections. When the barrier to entry is higher, the quality of conversations improve (just ask anyone who has gone to Burning Man!).

I’ve hosted five of these potlucks so far and we’ve found them to be very successful. Here are some of the reviews that we’ve received:

“Wow, this was a terrific event. Loved meeting everybody, talking Agile (including learning about Nummi!), and enjoying great Paleo food! … This was a great networking event as it turned out also – thanks everybody for any networking assistance you can help me with here as a transplant to Silicon Valley!” Brian M. Wills,  Agile Coach

“Thanks for hosting this event Chris! I personally had a great time learning, dinning, and feeling honored to be part of a very refreshing and honest exchange ce soir!” — Alvin Du, Staff Engineer

“Lovely! What a wonderful evening. Truly one of my favorite experiences since moving to the city.” Brittany Fritsch, Project Manager

“We explored on how to best serve our clients/organizations :)” —Latha Swamy, Lean | Agile Transformation Leader and Executive Coach

“Great conversation, insightful discussion, and lots of insights.” —George Lawton, Technology Journalist

“We wined, we dined, we talked Agile, and had a great time!” — Lydia Sugarman, CEO/Founder of Venntive.com

I’ll be putting up a quick explanatory site (AgilePotluck.com, now linked to this blog post) in the next few weeks to share more of our findings and insights. I’ll also offer a listing of potlucks and sub-domains to anyone who is hosting their own Agile Potluck. A logo may also be in the works…

In the meantime, I’d like to invite anyone to start their own Agile Potluck. Here are a few things I’ve found useful:

  1. Consider starting a group on Meetup.com, like ours: The Bay Area Agile Potluck Series. This makes it much easier to promote your potluck.
    • Ask your participants to provide their LinkedIn profile URL, company, title, and a brief introduction when they join the group so that others can get to know them better.
  2. Be prepared to accommodate a variety of food preferences. People’s diets can be vegetarian, gluten-free, vegan, paleo, dairy-free, nut-free…
  3. Ask your participants to follow good potluck etiquette:
    • “Since this is a potluck, please bring something to share with several people. There are often leftovers, so bring a container if you’d like to take something home. When you RSVP, please add a comment indicating what you will bring. People typically bring an entree, side dish, desert, appetizer, or wine, cheese, and bread. Almost anything goes, just please bring something more substantial than a bottle of wine or bag of chips. Use your imagination!”
  4. Have a reasonable but explicit cancellation policy:
    • “This potluck is popular! If you RSVP “Yes” but cannot attend, please update your reservation at least 48 hours in advance to allow someone else to prepare a dish and attend.”
    • Be prepared to remove folks from the group if they habitually cancel late.
  5. Note anything about your cooking style or venue that may make it harder for some participants to attend:
    • Dog Note: I have a very well-behaved pit bull named Ika. She is a total sweetheart. If you have a fear of dogs I can put her away for the dinner, but the only help I can provide for allergies is a dose of Claritin. She doesn’t shed much…”
  6. Ask your participants to help spread the word.

NB: I’ve trademarked the term Agile Potluck™ to discourage others from trying to mess with it or make a buck off of it. Feel free to use the mark without advance permission so long as you:

  1. Actually host a potluck in which individuals bring dishes to share, network, and discuss Agile principles over a delicious meal together.
  2. Provide a link to AgilePotluck.com to help spread the word.
  3. Don’t charge anyone to attend or for food unless your space requires it (and then only at cost).
  4. Don’t use the potluck for commercial purposes. Companies are welcome to sponsor their own Agile Potlucks—even at their offices—just please don’t try to recruit, sell your product, or otherwise hype your company. This is a user group, not a marketing ploy.

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All credit to Chris Gagne who is a top Agile Coach in the SF Bay Area