Swimlane Diagram – Know Everything About It

When it comes round to the graphical representation of projects and processes, it is important to know that there are several tools and charts that can help with it. Swimlane diagram is one such amazing diagramming program that helps in keeping track through the entirety of a process involved and further breaks them down into categories and the niches and domains depending on the designated work task.

(Image credit: Lucidchart)

If you have been inquisitive about the same, we are going to sort you out with some of the best resources that help explain everything that you possibly need to know about swimlane diagram and how to create one.

What is a Swimlane Diagram?

For those who aren’t aware completely, a swimlane diagram is a flowchart representation which helps in recording the steps through from the start to the end of the process. But, the unique thing about this is the fact that it further categorises the steps into further categories depending on the departments and the employees who have the designated tasks in the chart.

what is swimlane diagram

The lanes involved in these charts are used to create a separation between the tasks and the actions, thus further helping understand them without any chaos. In comparison to a regular flowchart diagram, the swimlane diagram helps make the tasks even clearer to understand.

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Knowing every last nitty gritty about the processes involved can further help in preventing the inefficiency and the confusion that many tend to struggle with.

The swimlane diagram helps provide with better clarity on the situation by putting on the tasks and the activities through on the vertical or the horizontal swimlanes. They also show any correlations and interconnected points that are involved within the process, if any.

It is also often termed as Rummler-Brache diagram or the easier term of the cross functional diagram and are very common in the curriculum in business schools and make use of some standard symbols for better expression.

What is the history of Swimlane Diagram?

It was in the late 1940s that the use of flowcharts for expressing clarity in the process began surfacing. People understood the significance of it and started indulging more and more into it which helps pave way for the development of the swimlane diagram.

Then, it was the 1990s that the dynamic duo Geary Rummler and Alan Brache published their book titled Improving Performance and then highlighted the significance of the swimlane diagrams.

The history surrounding it suggests that the same was designed and published to further help with solving a business problem and provide better clarity to a process involved.

Why should one use the Swimlane Diagram?

swimlane example - opportunity flowchart
(Image credit: Smartdraw)

When it comes to human understanding, everyone wants to only indulge in things that they know will provide them with benefits.

In such situations, it goes without saying that the swimlane diagram is most definitely one of the primary charting options that people like reaching out for.

But, why is that the case?

Don’t worry, for your convenience, we have sorted through some of the most important benefits of swimlane diagrams that we think you need to know of.

i. Helps in providing better clarity for complex processes

If you have a project going on, it is common for you to be confused with several precincts of the process. But, that is where the swimlane diagrams come into play.

They have a very simply but clear layout which helps in simplifying the complex processes for better understanding.

The inclusion of correct mapping of the data and putting them in the correct spots throughout the chart is what makes all the difference that you need to indulge in.

It helps in sorting through the entities, objectives and makes the interaction between them a lot more streamlined and clear.

They make use of elements involved in the diagram itself to further simplify the complex processes by getting rid of redundancies, and the bottlenecks and inefficiencies through the process.

ii. Better understanding

As mentioned before, the swimlane diagram promotes better communication and understanding of the processes involved. If you create swimlane diagrams separately for the executives and the employees involved, the same further helps both the parties understand the same better.

The swimlane diagram has such an easy layout that it makes it a lot easier for the people in the project to understand their duties and the responsibilities that they have to go through.

In addition to that, these diagrams also help in giving out a clear picture as to the way the involved departments communicate with each other. It also highlights all the internal work process involved in it which is pretty amazing as well.

iii. Know the participants

Another important benefit involved with the swimlane diagram is the fact that it helps in easy identification of the entities and the involved departments in the process. The visual representation through this form of charting also helps in easy identification of the participants and the sequences involved in the process.

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When you dig deeper into the diagram, you will also be able to find better understanding and knowledge about the participants and the employees designated with the specified entities in the process. It chalks out a clear picture for all the processes and the sub-processes involved.

iv. Enhanced flexibility

With the swimlane diagram, you can also experience immense flexibility with the work process. It is so to the point and clear that it helps you map out the complex processes by highlighting details associated with it.

These diagrams are also flexible because they have the ability to rotate. What we mean by this is the fact that they can be drawn both horizontally as well as vertically, as per the requirement calls. It also helps create varying perspectives and focuses on emphasizing the details involved.

v. Sustained improvement

Lastly, the most important benefit that you are going to experience with the swimlane diagram is the fact that it promotes easy analysis and helps with continuous improvement through with the process. You can get a clear understanding of the roadblocks and errors along the way and find better ways to mitigate that.

Some of the common errors that the swimlane diagrams help improve includes the missed steps, duplicate processes and even the prospects of lack of time management that can further impact the deadline of the projects.

Factors to keep in mind while making a Swimlane Diagram?

If you are new to the concept of swimlane diagram and need better guidance through with the process, we would suggest that you do your research right before you end up creating the flowchart or the diagram.

There are some factors involved in it, which include:

a. Know what your goal

Before you draw up a swimlane diagram, it is important that you determine and specify what your goal is with this. This will help you understand the kind of research that you need to indulge in to successfully draw the goal. It includes a certain level of detailing that you can only achieve when there is a better understanding of things.

b. Fragmentation

The next process in the making of the swimlane diagram is to fragment and breakdown the existing work into smaller and manageable pieces. Identifying the boundaries to the process also helps in better execution of the graphical representation.

Once that is done, you need to identify the swimlanes. Often times, multiple swimlane charts are created to represent different prospects of the people involved in the process. They could be the executives, work groups or even the departments involved.

c. Research more for an existing one

If you already have an existing chart available with the indicative processes sorted out, the next thing to do is research and looks more into that. From that itself, you need to separate out what can be done to simplify the process or make the process even easier to handle through.

This makes all the difference and cuts down a lot on the time frame as well. There are often times possibilities of redundancy which can only be sorted out when you take the time to understand the process.

d. Know of the tools

Lastly, before you start with creating a swimlane chart, you need to know of the tools that can help you with that. Make sure to opt for the ones that come with an easy interface without excessive complications involved.

e. Know the shapes and symbols

Before you start creating a swimlane diagram, it is very important that one knows of the shapes and symbols involved in the process of making one.

Take a look at below image;

swimlane symbols
(Image credit: MyChartGuide)

How can one create a Swimlane Diagram on MS Word?

When it comes to creating a swimlane chart, know for a fact that not everyone with have the budget to afford a paid tool. Since MS Word is free to use, there is an easy run down of the steps that we would love sharing with you.

These steps are not just easy but very easy to handle as well, making it the perfect option for you to stick on to.

  1. Start by creating a new document on Word. Once you have done that, go to “Page Layout” and from there, select the orientation to Landscape so you do have more space around to work with.
  2. Next on the agenda is to create the swimlanes. For that, all you need to do is go down to the “Insert” option on the menu bar and from there, go to “Shapes” and select the rectangle shape. After selecting, place one of the large rectangles on the new Word document. This will be the one that contains the flowchart. Select another rectangle and place the same on the top to designate the title.
  3. Once you have that sorted out, the next thing to do is to group the two shapes by simply clicking on the same. You can also modify the colors for the shapes, if required.
  4. Next comes labeling the swimlanes. You can easily do so by creating a text box from the Insert tab and then typing in the desired text involved. It is important that you fit in the texts inside the boxes because that is what helps streamline the process even further.
  5. Once the labeling has been done and the participants have been deduced, the next step is to start building the flowchart. You can again select the shapes from the Insert tab and then add text with the text box to define the field involved in the same.
  6. The last step is where you customize things. If you have something that looks bland, chances are that not many people will be appeased by it. The best way is to format the existing color scheme and representation and simply just spice the diagram up.

Are there any disadvantages of Swimlane Diagrams?

To be fair, every single diagramming and visual representation comes along with its fair share of downsides too. Some of the most common ones include:

1. Lack of detailing

One of the more common issues with the swimlane diagrams is the lack of detailing in the diagrams. The thing with this is that they are limited to a one page process which needs for the information to be compressed to the most precise form. So, the detailing is often compromised in the process.

2. Lack of physical communication

Often times, executives have this notion that having a swimlane diagram is enough for smooth functioning of the process. What this does is cut down on the actual physical interaction, thus causing miscommunication at times. This isn’t the case always but does happen for the most part.

3. No heed to organizational structure

Another one of the common issues with the swimlane diagrams is the fact that it disregards the general organizational structure. The diagram is often goal oriented and doesn’t always fit into the norms of what the organization is about. It can be fixed if the one responsible for making the swimlane diagram takes the time to adapt to the different hierarchies.

4. Lacks depth

Lastly, swimlane diagrams often tend to lack the depth that one needs in the overall visual representation. The main reason behind the same is because of the fact that these diagrams are two dimensional and doesn’t full encompass the all levels of the organization. It is thus important that one finds modes of warding that off before it takes a toll on the seamless processes.

The End Note

Swimlane diagram is one of the best and clear to understand diagramming process that can help avoid the ruckus in a team during project management. It is not the best and the most advanced one but if you are just starting out and need a good groundwork, this is a good place to start with. It can be made on a simple MS Word file and can be accessed remotely as well, if necessary. Just ensure that you pay heed to the downsides and manage it through.

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