Swimlanes for Business Process Mapping

by john on July 31, 2004


For some reason I’ve never been able to get my arms around the proper use of swimlane flowcharts for business process mapping. Part of the problem is it’s never been clear to me when a swimlane type flowchart is optimal over any other type. Effern at The Vision Thing helps out with a clear and concise example in Swimlane Process Flows 101.

Effern’s example uses the simple task of going to the movies. The swimlanes represent the different people who take part in such a process – the movie-goer, the ticket office, the usher and the projectionist. I told you it was simple – no concession stand! Swimlane flowcharts are meant to show clearly who is responsible for each step.

Of course that’s particularly useful when you want to improve the process by identifying steps that can be skipped, such as going to the boxoffice (ticket pre-purchased over the Internet, for example).

I’m certainly no flow-chart blackbelt now but at least I now have a handle on swimlane process flows.

NOTE: I have had to remove the links in the above because sadly Effern has taken his blog down. However, I have taken the time to compile a few links there that are current and that I know will help you with how to make a swimlane in Visio, or where ever you need to create your swimlane diagram.

Best book for learning about swim lanes and other process mapping problems: The Basics of Process Mapping

Best book for learning Visio: Microsoft Office Visio 2007 Step by Step (Step By Step (Microsoft))

Best process mapping tool on the planet (it’s worth the price, trust me): Microsoft Visio Professional 2007

I trust these resources will help you with your business process mapping tool needs as it pertains to swimlane flowcharts. Should you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask.

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Effern July 31, 2004 at 7:08 am

I’m glad the article was helpful for you. I do have some follow-up comments to help clarify my example:

+ My movie theatre example was indeed very stripped down, namely because I wanted something that would fit neatly into 4 lanes, and I really cut a lot of corners to make that happen (example: no concession stand). Although that would have involved a decision diamond (I don’t always get goodies at the movies) and I didn’t want to mess around with formatting those.

+ Ironically, this example is actually pretty terrible from a process improvement perspective. You have to pretend that there was something really meaty to change, because if you think about it, buying tickets online is convenient, but in no way reduces the complexity of the flow chart. The Box Office lane would simply be replaced with Web Site. However, if that is the optimal process, at least you know that and can see it plainly.

+ Swimlanes are relatively easy to make, but like any flowchart, is easily abused. If you start to make a swimlane and it quickly lurches towards the Flow that Ate Pittsburgh, you may want to re-think the flowchart.

+ My advice is, noodle around with making swimlanes. If you don’t have Visio, you can do this on regular printer paper by hand. The more you experiment, the easier it will be to know when to pull them out of your arsenal in a given situation.

Thanks! By the way, I found your link at Technorati. 🙂

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