What Is A Swimlane Diagram? Swimlane Diagram In A Nutshell

Swimlane diagrams are a type of cross-functional flowchart developed by organizational consultants Geary Rummler and Alan Brache in 1990. The pair built on pre-existing multi-column process charts to better illustrate processes involving more than one unit or department. A swimlane diagram is used in process flowcharts to clarify job sharing and job responsibility.

ElementDescriptionImplicationsKey CharacteristicsExamplesApplications
Diagram StructureA Swimlane Diagram is a visual representation of a process, workflow, or system, where distinct “lanes” or “swimlanes” are used to group related activities, tasks, or participants. Each lane typically represents a specific role, department, or entity involved in the process.– Provides a clear and organized view of process steps and responsibilities. – Visualizes interactions and handoffs between different participants or departments. – Enhances transparency and understanding of complex processes.– Multiple parallel lanes representing different entities (e.g., departments, teams). – Sequential flow of activities within each lane. – Arrows or connectors indicating the direction of flow and handoffs.– A Swimlane Diagram for an order processing system may include lanes for Sales, Inventory, and Shipping. – In a software development process, lanes can represent Development, Testing, and Quality Assurance teams. – A healthcare workflow diagram may feature lanes for Registration, Nursing, and Billing departments.– Visualize and document complex processes involving multiple participants or departments. – Analyze and optimize workflows to identify bottlenecks or inefficiencies. – Communicate process steps and responsibilities clearly to team members or stakeholders.
Roles and ResponsibilitiesWithin each swimlane, specific roles or responsible parties are identified, along with their associated tasks or activities. This clarifies who is accountable for each step in the process.– Defines clear ownership and accountability for process activities. – Facilitates coordination and collaboration among participants. – Helps prevent duplication of effort and reduces misunderstandings.– Role labels within each lane (e.g., Manager, Customer Support, Marketing). – Task descriptions or labels associated with each role. – Arrows or lines indicating task sequences and dependencies.– In a procurement process, the Purchasing department may be responsible for “Vendor Selection,” while the Finance department handles “Invoice Verification.” – Software development: “Design” tasks may fall under the Development team’s responsibility, while “Testing” is owned by Quality Assurance. – In an HR onboarding process, HR may be responsible for “Employee Documentation,” while IT handles “Account Setup.”– Define and clarify roles and responsibilities within a process. – Assign ownership of specific tasks to individuals or departments. – Enhance cross-functional collaboration by visualizing handoffs and dependencies.
Process FlowThe Swimlane Diagram illustrates the sequential flow of activities within each lane and shows how tasks or information move from one participant or department to another.– Reveals the order and progression of tasks in a process. – Identifies dependencies and handoffs between different roles or entities. – Highlights potential bottlenecks or delays in the workflow.– Sequential arrangement of tasks or activities within each lane. – Arrows or connectors indicating the flow of tasks from one lane to another. – Decision points or branches in the flow when different paths are possible.– In an order fulfillment process, the flow may start with “Customer Order” in the Sales lane, followed by “Inventory Check” in the Inventory lane, and “Shipping” in the Shipping lane. – In a customer support workflow, the flow could include “Issue Identification” in the Customer Support lane, “Escalation” to the Technical Support lane, and “Resolution” back in the Customer Support lane. – In a project management context, the flow might encompass “Project Planning” in the Project Manager’s lane, “Development” in the Development team’s lane, and “Testing” in the Quality Assurance team’s lane.– Visualize and document the step-by-step progression of tasks or activities. – Identify potential points of coordination or handoffs between roles or departments. – Analyze the overall flow to optimize efficiency and reduce delays.
Visual ClaritySwimlane Diagrams are designed for visual clarity, using clear labels, shapes, and connectors to make the process and responsibilities easily understandable.– Enhances comprehension of complex processes. – Minimizes the risk of misinterpretation or confusion. – Facilitates effective communication with stakeholders.– Lane labels clearly indicating the roles or departments involved. – Task descriptions or labels within each lane. – Standardized symbols and shapes for activities, decisions, and connectors.– Shapes like rectangles for tasks, diamonds for decision points, and arrows for connectors are used consistently for clarity. – Fonts, colors, and line styles are chosen to differentiate elements and enhance readability. – Diagrams are organized and aligned logically to aid in following the flow.– Create visual representations of processes that are easy to interpret by various stakeholders. – Use standardized symbols and styles to maintain consistency and clarity in the diagram. – Ensure that the layout and design enhance understanding and minimize the potential for miscommunication.

Understanding swimlane diagrams

Swimlane diagrams differ from conventional flowcharts in that processes and decisions are visually grouped into lanes using parallel lines. Each lane in turn represents a single person, group, sub-process, department, or information system. 

Directional arrows then cross swimlanes to depict how information or materials move through the various sub-processes, providing clarity on the departments or employees responsible for a particular set of actions.

Like a conventional flowchart, however, swimlane diagrams use directional arrows to represent the sequence of events in an overall process from start to finish. 

Businesses use swimlane diagrams to:

  • Identify bottlenecks, delays, redundancies, and extraneous steps to streamline processes.
  • Standardize work processes and then document them in a format that is easily shared and simple to understand.
  • Ensure all necessary parties are involved in a process, and
  • Increase operational transparency and collaboration between departments

Creating a swimlane diagram

Creating a swimlane diagram is a matter of following a few simple steps:

  1. Determine the goal – this enables the business to identify what process or processes need to be analyzed. What level of detail is required for there to be a sufficient level of understanding?
  2. Segment the work – break the process down into its constituent parts and clearly identify the boundaries of the process to be studied. 
  3. Designate swimlanes – as noted earlier, these may be departments, groups, employees, or information systems.
  4. Research the process steps – this is achieved by laying out the interconnectedness between each lane. It’s important to start by documenting the process as it exists and then looking for process gaps, redundancies, or duplicated steps. Swimlane diagrams can be hand-drawn or created using software such as Microsoft Word and Microsoft PowerPoint. Whatever the method chosen, use standard symbols to depict each process step sequentially in its associated swimlane.
  5. Confirm the diagram – consult with individuals who are familiar with the process, and make adjustments where necessary.
  6. Implement the diagram – this may involve incorporating the diagram into a new standard operating procedure or as a reference tool for quality or training purposes. Alternatively, new diagrams can be devised for the same process to compare various approaches and choose the best way forward.

Swim lane diagram examples

The application of swimlane diagrams is almost limitless, but we have provided some examples below that are most relevant to an organizational context.

Let’s dive straight into them.

Labor contract management

This example can help organizations better understand the management process of new employees. It may contain the following swimlanes and process steps:

  1. Employee – new employee registration, probation expired, sign the agreement of contract modification, contract expired.
  2. Employee department – performance appraisal.
  3. Human resources department – employee dismissal (if not qualified), sign labor contract, determine contract modification, archive file, invoke separation procedure.
  4. Documents – labor contract, modified contact, letter to end labor contract, contract modification agreement.

Inventory management

Swimlane diagrams can also capture the entire process of inventory management from shipping to accounts payable. Inventory swimlanes and their associated process steps include:

  1. Sales department – shipping customer order.
  2. Production department – stock request, stock inquiry, production.
  3. Quality control department – quality inspection.
  4. Purchasing department – material purchasing, purchasing invoice.
  5. Warehouse – stock in, stock out, order settlement.
  6. Financial department – accounts payable.

Software service

This swimlane diagram deals specifically with the processing of customer requests while using software, including error detection and the distribution of an error-free product back to the customer. The following swimlanes and process steps are applicable:

  1. Customer – customer request for help or error reporting, post-service feedback.
  2. Sales – sales issue, resolve the issue and respond to customer, confirm the issue has been resolved.
  3. Technical support – new technical issue, determine solution, report solution to sales, resolve the issue identified by the tester, ask the customer to clarify the issue if it cannot be reproduced. 
  4. Tester – test the presence of the issue, determine repeatability of issue, test issues resolved by the development team.
  5. Development team – report errors, undertake technical analysis, fix issue.

Change management

Swimlanes can also be used in change management processes that are sometimes complex and require the status quo to be upset. Let’s take a look at an example with six different swimlanes and their process steps:

  1. Change indicator – request the change.
  2. Emergency change advisory board – evaluate emergency change, approve or deny the emergency change.
  3. Change advisory board – evaluate change, approve or deny the change.
  4. Change manager – assess the change, determine the type of change (emergency or non-emergency), authorize deployment, notify relevant business departments.
  5. Change builder – build the change with data store, backout plan, and implementation plan, test the change, review the change post-implementation.
  6. Implementor – schedule the date of change implementation, implement the change, determine whether implementation was successful, back out of the change if necessary.

Production processes

The final example consists of a swimlane diagram that can be used to improve business production efficiency from the acquiring of raw materials to the distribution of the finished product:

  1. Sales department – receive order, vet order, place order, collect payment, release for delivery.
  2. Research and development – make a new technology file.
  3. Production planning – order review, create production schedule, confirm materials, assembly process, maintain pace of production.
  4. Workshop – produce products, store products.
  5. Purchasing department – define material needs, place purchasing orders, follow-up and confirm orders.

Key takeaways:

  • A swimlane diagram is used in process flowcharts to clarify job sharing and job responsibility. These flowcharts were developed by organizational consultants Geary Rummler and Alan Brache in 1990.
  • A swimlane diagram is used to streamline processes, delineate roles and responsibilities, and increase transparency and collaboration between related departments.
  • A swimlane diagram can be hand-drawn or created using flowchart software. Businesses must first determine a goal and work backward to identify the process steps required to achieve it. Those familiar with the process should be consulted before it is accepted into standard operating procedures or training.

Key Highlights

  • Introduction to Swimlane Diagrams:
    • Swimlane diagrams are a specialized type of cross-functional flowchart developed by Geary Rummler and Alan Brache in 1990.
    • These diagrams build upon multi-column process charts to effectively visualize processes involving multiple units or departments within an organization.
    • Swimlane diagrams are particularly useful for illustrating job sharing, job responsibilities, and the flow of information in complex processes.
  • Understanding Swimlane Diagrams:
    • Swimlane diagrams differentiate from traditional flowcharts by visually grouping processes and decisions into lanes using parallel lines.
    • Each lane represents a distinct entity, such as a person, group, sub-process, department, or information system.
    • Directional arrows traverse these swimlanes, showing the movement of information or materials between sub-processes and indicating responsibility.
  • Purpose and Benefits of Swimlane Diagrams:
    • Swimlane diagrams serve various purposes within organizations:
      • Identify bottlenecks, delays, redundancies, and unnecessary steps to streamline processes.
      • Standardize work processes and document them in a format that is easily shareable and comprehensible.
      • Ensure the involvement of all relevant parties in a process.
      • Enhance operational transparency and foster collaboration between different departments.
  • Creating a Swimlane Diagram:
    • The process of creating a swimlane diagram involves several steps:
      • Determine the goal: Clarify the specific process or processes to be analyzed and define the desired level of detail.
      • Segment the work: Break down the process into its constituent parts and establish clear boundaries for analysis.
      • Designate swimlanes: Assign swimlanes to departments, groups, employees, or information systems.
      • Research the process steps: Map out the connections between each swimlane, documenting the existing process and identifying gaps or redundancies.
      • Confirm the diagram: Seek input from individuals familiar with the process and make necessary adjustments.
      • Implement the diagram: Incorporate the diagram into standard operating procedures or use it as a reference tool for quality control and training purposes.
  • Examples of Swimlane Diagrams:
    • Swimlane diagrams find application in various organizational contexts:
      • Labor Contract Management: Illustrates the process of managing new employee contracts, involving departments like Human Resources, Employee Department, and Documents.
      • Inventory Management: Visualizes the inventory management process, covering departments such as Sales, Production, Quality Control, and Financial.
      • Software Service: Represents the process of addressing customer requests for software support, involving Customer, Sales, Technical Support, Tester, and Development.
      • Change Management: Demonstrates the steps in change management, involving different entities like Change Indicator, Advisory Boards, Change Manager, and Implementor.
      • Production Processes: Maps the production process from order placement to distribution, including Sales, Research and Development, Production Planning, Workshop, and Purchasing.

Connected Analysis Frameworks

Failure Mode And Effects Analysis

A failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) is a structured approach to identifying design failures in a product or process. Developed in the 1950s, the failure mode and effects analysis is one the earliest methodologies of its kind. It enables organizations to anticipate a range of potential failures during the design stage.

Agile Business Analysis

Agile Business Analysis (AgileBA) is certification in the form of guidance and training for business analysts seeking to work in agile environments. To support this shift, AgileBA also helps the business analyst relate Agile projects to a wider organizational mission or strategy. To ensure that analysts have the necessary skills and expertise, AgileBA certification was developed.

Business Valuation

Business valuations involve a formal analysis of the key operational aspects of a business. A business valuation is an analysis used to determine the economic value of a business or company unit. It’s important to note that valuations are one part science and one part art. Analysts use professional judgment to consider the financial performance of a business with respect to local, national, or global economic conditions. They will also consider the total value of assets and liabilities, in addition to patented or proprietary technology.

Paired Comparison Analysis

A paired comparison analysis is used to rate or rank options where evaluation criteria are subjective by nature. The analysis is particularly useful when there is a lack of clear priorities or objective data to base decisions on. A paired comparison analysis evaluates a range of options by comparing them against each other.

Monte Carlo Analysis

The Monte Carlo analysis is a quantitative risk management technique. The Monte Carlo analysis was developed by nuclear scientist Stanislaw Ulam in 1940 as work progressed on the atom bomb. The analysis first considers the impact of certain risks on project management such as time or budgetary constraints. Then, a computerized mathematical output gives businesses a range of possible outcomes and their probability of occurrence.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

A cost-benefit analysis is a process a business can use to analyze decisions according to the costs associated with making that decision. For a cost analysis to be effective it’s important to articulate the project in the simplest terms possible, identify the costs, determine the benefits of project implementation, assess the alternatives.

CATWOE Analysis

The CATWOE analysis is a problem-solving strategy that asks businesses to look at an issue from six different perspectives. The CATWOE analysis is an in-depth and holistic approach to problem-solving because it enables businesses to consider all perspectives. This often forces management out of habitual ways of thinking that would otherwise hinder growth and profitability. Most importantly, the CATWOE analysis allows businesses to combine multiple perspectives into a single, unifying solution.

VTDF Framework

It’s possible to identify the key players that overlap with a company’s business model with a competitor analysis. This overlapping can be analyzed in terms of key customers, technologies, distribution, and financial models. When all those elements are analyzed, it is possible to map all the facets of competition for a tech business model to understand better where a business stands in the marketplace and its possible future developments.

Pareto Analysis

The Pareto Analysis is a statistical analysis used in business decision making that identifies a certain number of input factors that have the greatest impact on income. It is based on the similarly named Pareto Principle, which states that 80% of the effect of something can be attributed to just 20% of the drivers.

Comparable Analysis

A comparable company analysis is a process that enables the identification of similar organizations to be used as a comparison to understand the business and financial performance of the target company. To find comparables you can look at two key profiles: the business and financial profile. From the comparable company analysis it is possible to understand the competitive landscape of the target organization.

SWOT Analysis

A SWOT Analysis is a framework used for evaluating the business’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It can aid in identifying the problematic areas of your business so that you can maximize your opportunities. It will also alert you to the challenges your organization might face in the future.

PESTEL Analysis

The PESTEL analysis is a framework that can help marketers assess whether macro-economic factors are affecting an organization. This is a critical step that helps organizations identify potential threats and weaknesses that can be used in other frameworks such as SWOT or to gain a broader and better understanding of the overall marketing environment.

Business Analysis

Business analysis is a research discipline that helps driving change within an organization by identifying the key elements and processes that drive value. Business analysis can also be used in Identifying new business opportunities or how to take advantage of existing business opportunities to grow your business in the marketplace.

Financial Structure

In corporate finance, the financial structure is how corporations finance their assets (usually either through debt or equity). For the sake of reverse engineering businesses, we want to look at three critical elements to determine the model used to sustain its assets: cost structure, profitability, and cash flow generation.

Financial Modeling

Financial modeling involves the analysis of accounting, finance, and business data to predict future financial performance. Financial modeling is often used in valuation, which consists of estimating the value in dollar terms of a company based on several parameters. Some of the most common financial models comprise discounted cash flows, the M&A model, and the CCA model.

Value Investing

Value investing is an investment philosophy that looks at companies’ fundamentals, to discover those companies whose intrinsic value is higher than what the market is currently pricing, in short value investing tries to evaluate a business by starting by its fundamentals.

Buffet Indicator

The Buffet Indicator is a measure of the total value of all publicly-traded stocks in a country divided by that country’s GDP. It’s a measure and ratio to evaluate whether a market is undervalued or overvalued. It’s one of Warren Buffet’s favorite measures as a warning that financial markets might be overvalued and riskier.

Financial Analysis

Financial accounting is a subdiscipline within accounting that helps organizations provide reporting related to three critical areas of a business: its assets and liabilities (balance sheet), its revenues and expenses (income statement), and its cash flows (cash flow statement). Together those areas can be used for internal and external purposes.

Post-Mortem Analysis

Post-mortem analyses review projects from start to finish to determine process improvements and ensure that inefficiencies are not repeated in the future. In the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK), this process is referred to as “lessons learned”.

Retrospective Analysis

Retrospective analyses are held after a project to determine what worked well and what did not. They are also conducted at the end of an iteration in Agile project management. Agile practitioners call these meetings retrospectives or retros. They are an effective way to check the pulse of a project team, reflect on the work performed to date, and reach a consensus on how to tackle the next sprint cycle.

Root Cause Analysis

In essence, a root cause analysis involves the identification of problem root causes to devise the most effective solutions. Note that the root cause is an underlying factor that sets the problem in motion or causes a particular situation such as non-conformance.

Blindspot Analysis


Break-even Analysis

A break-even analysis is commonly used to determine the point at which a new product or service will become profitable. The analysis is a financial calculation that tells the business how many products it must sell to cover its production costs.  A break-even analysis is a small business accounting process that tells the business what it needs to do to break even or recoup its initial investment. 

Decision Analysis

Stanford University Professor Ronald A. Howard first defined decision analysis as a profession in 1964. Over the ensuing decades, Howard has supervised many doctoral theses on the subject across topics including nuclear waste disposal, investment planning, hurricane seeding, and research strategy. Decision analysis (DA) is a systematic, visual, and quantitative decision-making approach where all aspects of a decision are evaluated before making an optimal choice.

DESTEP Analysis

A DESTEP analysis is a framework used by businesses to understand their external environment and the issues which may impact them. The DESTEP analysis is an extension of the popular PEST analysis created by Harvard Business School professor Francis J. Aguilar. The DESTEP analysis groups external factors into six categories: demographic, economic, socio-cultural, technological, ecological, and political.

STEEP Analysis

The STEEP analysis is a tool used to map the external factors that impact an organization. STEEP stands for the five key areas on which the analysis focuses: socio-cultural, technological, economic, environmental/ecological, and political. Usually, the STEEP analysis is complementary or alternative to other methods such as SWOT or PESTEL analyses.

STEEPLE Analysis

The STEEPLE analysis is a variation of the STEEP analysis. Where the step analysis comprises socio-cultural, technological, economic, environmental/ecological, and political factors as the base of the analysis. The STEEPLE analysis adds other two factors such as Legal and Ethical.

Activity-Based Management

Activity-based management (ABM) is a framework for determining the profitability of every aspect of a business. The end goal is to maximize organizational strengths while minimizing or eliminating weaknesses. Activity-based management can be described in the following steps: identification and analysis, evaluation and identification of areas of improvement.

PMESII-PT Analysis

PMESII-PT is a tool that helps users organize large amounts of operations information. PMESII-PT is an environmental scanning and monitoring technique, like the SWOT, PESTLE, and QUEST analysis. Developed by the United States Army, used as a way to execute a more complex strategy in foreign countries with a complex and uncertain context to map.

SPACE Analysis

The SPACE (Strategic Position and Action Evaluation) analysis was developed by strategy academics Alan Rowe, Richard Mason, Karl Dickel, Richard Mann, and Robert Mockler. The particular focus of this framework is strategy formation as it relates to the competitive position of an organization. The SPACE analysis is a technique used in strategic management and planning. 

Lotus Diagram

A lotus diagram is a creative tool for ideation and brainstorming. The diagram identifies the key concepts from a broad topic for simple analysis or prioritization.

Functional Decomposition

Functional decomposition is an analysis method where complex processes are examined by dividing them into their constituent parts. According to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK), functional decomposition “helps manage complexity and reduce uncertainty by breaking down processes, systems, functional areas, or deliverables into their simpler constituent parts and allowing each part to be analyzed independently.”

Multi-Criteria Analysis

The multi-criteria analysis provides a systematic approach for ranking adaptation options against multiple decision criteria. These criteria are weighted to reflect their importance relative to other criteria. A multi-criteria analysis (MCA) is a decision-making framework suited to solving problems with many alternative courses of action.

Stakeholder Analysis

A stakeholder analysis is a process where the participation, interest, and influence level of key project stakeholders is identified. A stakeholder analysis is used to leverage the support of key personnel and purposefully align project teams with wider organizational goals. The analysis can also be used to resolve potential sources of conflict before project commencement.

Strategic Analysis

Strategic analysis is a process to understand the organization’s environment and competitive landscape to formulate informed business decisions, to plan for the organizational structure and long-term direction. Strategic planning is also useful to experiment with business model design and assess the fit with the long-term vision of the business.

Related Strategy Concepts: Go-To-Market StrategyMarketing StrategyBusiness ModelsTech Business ModelsJobs-To-Be DoneDesign ThinkingLean Startup CanvasValue ChainValue Proposition CanvasBalanced ScorecardBusiness Model CanvasSWOT AnalysisGrowth HackingBundlingUnbundlingBootstrappingVenture CapitalPorter’s Five ForcesPorter’s Generic StrategiesPorter’s Five ForcesPESTEL AnalysisSWOTPorter’s Diamond ModelAnsoffTechnology Adoption CurveTOWSSOARBalanced ScorecardOKRAgile MethodologyValue PropositionVTDF FrameworkBCG MatrixGE McKinsey MatrixKotter’s 8-Step Change Model.

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