How To Create a Swim Lane Diagram

Swim Lane flowchart
Image via Wikipedia

How To Create a Swim Lane Diagram

We live in a world overwhelmed with waste, and many supply chains suffer the effects of it daily. Luckily, there are many tools out there used to target and eliminate that waste. My personal favorite is the process map in the form of a swim lane diagram. It clearly identifies responsible parties and the points in the process at which they are involved. Below, I have created a simple “how to” guide on creating a swim lane diagram.

Identify your process.
Identify a wasteful process that you wish to improve.

Round up the herd.
Collect representatives from all parties involved in the process. It is best to keep the group limited to 3-5 people. When the group is too large it becomes more difficult to reach conclusions and keep everyone engaged.

Skip the computer.
When creating a process flow for the first time leave the computer at your desk. The best way to get started is with a marker, different colored post-it notes, and a giant sheet (approx 3’x6’) of white paper. A white board/wall can work as well (although make sure you’re process map won’t get erased for a couple of days). The old fashioned way is initially more efficient because most of the time you don’t thoroughly know your process up front. Using post–it notes will allow you to move around steps in the process. Each party involved in the process should have uniquely colored post-it notes so as to visualize who owns which step in the process.

Review the rules of the road.
Remember that you are using a lean problem solving tool, which indicates we already possess standard symbols identifying action in the process. A lean process map symbol key is below:

Process Map Toolkit

Process Map Toolkit

On your mark, get set…GO!
Each group that is associated with the process gets their own section on the diagram. Draw vertical (or horizontal) lines to divide each section – or “swim lane.”

Lay it out.
Starting from left to right, identify each step in the process. Write each down on a post-it note and place the note under the appropriate owner group. Use the lean symbols to connect each step.

Check and adjust.
Review your process and adjust any post-it notes that are in the wrong place. Make sure the whole group is in agreement.

Bring it to the 21st century.
Now that you have completed the swim lane diagram, there are many great process tools out there that will help you make it electronic – specifically Microsoft Visio and Excel. Print out the diagram and distribute it to your team members.

Take action.
Use what you have learned in this process mapping exercise to remove waste and increase efficiency.

Written by Ben Green, Lean Logistics Manager at LeanCor

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