The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Swim Lane Diagrams

It is always important to know your processes. It is even more important to know who is responsible for each step of a process. This is especially true for companies that have processes that include multiple people. Having a flowchart is always a good thing, but sometimes you need a little more clarity. This is where a swim lane diagram can be helpful.

What Is a Swim Lane Diagram?

What Is a Swim Lane Diagram?

Swim lane diagrams are flowcharts that show both a process from start to finish and who is responsible for each step in the process. Much like a swimming pool with established lanes for each swimmer, the diagram has horizontal or vertical lanes belonging to each actor in the process. Instead of just documenting the steps in the process, this style of diagram allows people to easily see their own responsibilities within the system and know how their role fits within other moving parts as responsibility is handed off from one party to the next. Popularized in Geary Rummler and Alan Brache's Improving Processes, a swim lane diagram (or Rummler-Brache diagram) can be extremely valuable. Some of the benefits of using this diagram include:

  • Delineating responsibilities belonging to certain individuals or department
  • Identifying bottlenecks, redundancies, and extraneous steps to streamline processes
  • Ensuring all necessary parties are involved in a process
  • Standardizing work processes and documenting them in highly sharable formats

Swim Lane Diagram Examples

Any process that involves more than one party is an excellent occasion to document the process through a swim lane diagram. Corporations, for example, can model standard sales workflow processes by showing the internal process of handling a lead. A lead may start off as the responsibility of the marketing department, where it is nurtured and marketing-qualified before being handed off to a sales representative. Once the deal closes, the lead (now a customer) is handed off to customer services. From there, it may intermittently move briefly to the marketer's lane for surveys and feedback before circling back to the sales representative for a contract renewal or product upsell.

By showing this process through a swim lane diagram, marketers know that qualifying the lead isn't the end of their interactions with the customer. Instead, they will have future interactions regarded feedback. Sales reps also can clearly see that renewals are their responsibility. Even better, they know they can turn to marketing for information regarding the customer's experiences and the likelihood of upselling.

Other examples of swim lane diagram can include:

  • Onboarding a new employee, so HR representatives have a detailed breakdown of responsibilities
  • Modeling changes to other swim lane diagrams to test new processes
  • Internal auditing workflows
  • Accounts payable processes

How to Make a Swim Lane Diagram

Follow these steps to make your own swim lane diagram:

  1. List all the participants who are (or should be) involved in the core process you're diagramming.
  2. Depict each step in the process from start to finish, moving from lane to lane based on who owns each step. Use standard flowchart symbols, such as arrows designating the direction of movement. Also, each subsequent step should be one step further to the right (in diagrams with horizontal lanes) or further down (in diagrams with vertical lanes) to make the process's progression clear.
  3. Have participants and department heads verify the accuracy of the process.
  4. Save an editable version of the document in a centralized repository for future updates and revisions.

Swim Lane Diagram Software

Digital flowcharts are far superior to handwritten versions, but it's important to choose the right software that can get the job done. Look for mind mapping software designed to easily accommodate swim lane diagram depictions. The software should have modifiable layouts, standard flowchart symbols in their image libraries, and responsive design features that allow for complex multi-stage and multi-participant processes.

Get Started Fast with Templates!

MindManager comes pre-installed with many templates for you to choose from. To use these templates:

  1. Open MindManager
  2. Click NEW in the navigation menu
  3. Select the template you want to use
  4. A preview screen will appear. Check to if you want to use your selected template
  5. Select Create Map
  6. Customize the template for your specific project

Other Types of Maps and Charts


MindManager is powerful mind mapping software that's designed for businesses, students, and entrepreneurial professionals. We design our software to accommodate your way of thinking so you can depict your processes in easy-to-follow graphics. Try our free 30-day trial to build effective mind mapping into your daily processes.