Due to the online tooling required, remote real-time kanbanning is tricky if you don’t have money to spend on it. But we needed it for the Lean Coffee events we wanted to run.

Figuring this out was fun, especially as we organise Ladies Of Code London on a voluntary basis and thus have no budget. (We pay for our Zoom fees out of our own pockets, for example.) Understandably, all the online sticky-note collaboration tools require a £subscription, with some offering a free trial.

We thought Lean Coffee would be a great way to spark a variety of conversations amongst the far-flung members of our now-international (“London” only in name) community and had already decided we wanted to run these events on a semi-regular basis for people to get things off their chests.


  • Lean Coffee sessions are structured but agendaless.
  • Participants choose and vote on topics themselves, so it’s entirely democratic and efficient.
  • Usually, suggestions, voting and kanban is all done on Post-Its so we needed to find an online, shareable solution.

Organisers’ requirements

To run the lean coffee, you need to be able to:

  • Have all participants type topics somewhere they can be seen and voted on by everyone in real time - in person, this would be handwritten Post-It notes on a wall.
  • Place the topics in order of popularity - again, where they can be seen by all in real time. This is easy in person - just use Post-Its.
  • Move the topics around the board when they change status and have the participants be able to see this in real time.
  • Have a video conferencing system so people can discuss the topics.
  • Time the rounds.

Tooling decisions

We looked at a number of tools. Some of them had a free trial but, unfortunately, all of them were going to end up costing money and we have zero budget.

We decided on the following:

  • Suggesting topics: Slack. This meant names were automatically attached and everyone could see all the topics. Because of the admin burden, we stipulated that all attendees needed to contact us for Slack access by the day before the event. If they did not do so, we were happy for them to join in the conversation, they just wouldn’t be able to suggest or vote on topics.

  • Voting for topics: Slack. This is done on an honesty system. We go through all the topics and put two different reaction emojis on each one. We then give participants two votes each and they upvote by clicking on the emojis that are already there.


  • Shareable kanban board: Trello. We shared a view-only link on the basis that the voting could be done elsewhere and only the hosts needed to be able to update the board. This reduced the number of services that people needed an account for.


  • Timing: kitchen timer. We would just hold this next to our mic. We could have used an online timer and shared our screen but, when you’re running an event, you have enough windows open as it is!

Other free tools?

Have you run an online Lean Coffee event on zero budget? Get in touch and let me know which tools you used!