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Swimlane diagrams illustrate how processes involving multiple contributors progress through their various chronological stages. You might have seen swimlanes called Functional Bands, Multi-Column Charts, or Rummler-Brache diagrams. That may sound complicated, but in practice swimlanes and swimlane diagrams are an elegant type of flowchart used to un-complicate diagrams that would otherwise be overly complex.
In a swimlane diagram, processes are split into distinct channels according to whose responsibility they are. This allows each person (or group of people, such as a business department) to quickly and easily see what they’re required to accomplish. Because the lanes are arranged side-by-side, events in the process can be organized in sequence and connected by arrows, so multiple processes come together to form a whole.
This format helps teams to see what their team and the other teams need to accomplish (and when), so processes don’t stagnate.
Most often, swimlane diagrams get used by multi-department organizations to illustrate cooperative business processes. But they can also be a simple way to resolve confusion around who owns what part of a process. In our example below, notice we’ve organized the swimlanes vertically and use only two.
You can use as many lanes as your process demands and orient the diagram whichever way makes the most sense for your situation.
What makes a swimlane diagram a swimlane diagram is:
a) the separation of processes into lanes—either horizontally or vertically—and;
b) organizing discrete tasks in sequential order along the other axis.
Doing both these things allows the diagram to provide viewers with the most benefit. Each department can see its assigned tasks broken out into a distinct channel and everyone can see at what stage of the entire process their tasks need to be tackled.
Making a swimlane diagram using Gliffy is straightforward.
Look in the panel along the left side of your canvas for the Swimlane sub-section. If Swimlane shapes aren't there, you'll need to add them by clicking More Shapes at the bottom, expanding the Basic and Flowchart section and ticking the Swim Lanes box.
Drag the swimlane shape that best suits your needs onto your canvas. By selecting the shape, you can change its total size, the size of individual lanes, or the shape’s orientation.
Once your swimlane shape is ready, use the Flowchart section of the Shape Library to fill out your diagram with process events and connect those events with arrows. Put these on their own layer so that you don't accidentally make changes to your swim lanes while diagramming.
Remember to use standard flowchart symbols so that anyone in your organization can understand the process at a high level.
To get started even more quickly, use one of Gliffy’s existing swimlane templates by clicking File / New and browsing through our template gallery—or just use either of the diagrams in this post as a template.
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