Swim Lane Diagram
This article provides a practical explanation of the swim lane diagram. After reading, you'll understand the basics of this useful problem solving method.
What is a Swim Lane Diagram?
A swim lane diagram is a process flow diagram, or cross-functional diagram, in which the process is subdivided into categories. The difference between a normal flow chart and the swim lane diagram, is that the latter shows exactly who needs to do what in a process.
A swim lane or flow represents the activities that have to be carried out by a specific department or entity. The name of the diagram comes from the similarity between the horizontal lines of the diagram and swim lanes in a swimming pool. Swim lane diagrams are part of Business Process Mapping (BPM).
The different lanes are meant to represent the connections, communication, and transfer between, for instance, different departments or colleagues. By visualising the process in this way, it becomes clear where it's still lacking in efficiency and who is responsible for a certain task.
The swim lane diagram was introduced around 1940. It was a type of flow chart with multiple columns. These were used to represent processes that were being worked on by multiple departments.
In 1990, Geary Rummler and Alan Brache wrote their book 'Improving Process'. It first described the swim lane diagram. That's why these swim lane diagrams are sometimes called Rummler-Brache diagrams. Doctor and engineer Binner is also credited with developing the diagram. In the 1980s, the diagram was part of his thesis on the requirements of information technologies.
The concept was introduced into the computer modelling world in 1993. Later, Microsoft Visio also introduced the swim lane diagram in its software.
Structure and elements of a Swim Lane Diagram
The swim lane diagram differs from other flow charts because activities are grouped in different lanes. Parallel lines divide the diagram into different lanes. Each lane can be labelled as the user sees fit, but usually represents a single person or department.
The image shows how the activities combine to make up the whole process, starting at the top. Arrows between the different elements show the flow of information or materials to other sub-parts. The diagram uses standard flow chart symbols.
The diagram can also be flipped to show that the categories are shown on the left. That can be easier when using it, as many diagrams are wider than they are tall. It also o...
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