Understanding Swim Lane Diagrams: Example and Explanation

Understanding Swim Lane Diagrams: Example and Explanation
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Analyzing Workflows

A swim lane diagram illustrates a process workflow which is grouped in columns and rows called swim lanes.

Workflows illustrate a process step-by-step using blocks containing text listing each task to be completed. They are often used in

business as references to document responsibility of tasks and business process. Workflows are useful as training materials for staff involved in completing pieces of an operational process. Often workflows are a visual accompaniment to written policies and procedures

A swim lane diagram workflow also uses blocks to show the steps of a process. The diagram shows columns and rows, each considered a swim lane, representing a specific functional area. A functional area may represent a department or individual who is responsible for completing the step. Each lane represents a different area of responsibility. Each step of the process, or block on your workflow, is listed in chronological order in its appropriate lane. This lets you see at an easy glance who is responsible for each step and when it occurs in the overall process.

Advantages of a Swim Lane Diagram

The primary advantage of a swim lane diagram is the ability to very clearly illustrate responsibilities of a functional area in a specific workflow. In the diagram below, a sample workflow for the preauthorization of medical services, there are three parties involved in the process – the member, provider, and insurer. You can easily see that the provider is responsible for requesting services, providing services, and appealing denials. The insurer is responsible for reviewing the request for services and rendering a decision. The member receives the medical services.

Using Visio to Create Swim Lane Diagrams

Microsoft Visio makes creating swim lane diagrams easy. In Visio, a swim lane workflow can be created by accessing the cross-functional flowchart templates. When creating a new document click “New” and then click “Cross Functional Flowchart” and “Create.” You will have the option of creating horizontal or vertical swim lanes. Visio allows labeling of the swim lanes, choosing multiple shapes for the task boxes and the flexibility to add, delete and rearrange swim lanes. Visio also provides the ability to customize the font, font size, color scheme and add effects to enhance the visual appeal. To share your swim lane workflow with those without Visio, when saving your document, save the file type as a JPEG, TIF or PDF file. Swim lane diagrams can be created manually in other applications such as Word or Excel but lack the templates and automation of Visio.

Swim Lane Example

In this example of a swim lane diagram, this workflow details the process for medical pre-authorization. Many health plans and insurers require that medical procedures are pre-authorized prior to services being rendered. Read from left to right, each swim lane represents a responsible party, in this case: Member, Provider, and the Insurer. Each square box represents a task in the process, and each diamond box represents a question that must be asked before proceeding to the next step.

Click on image for an enlarged view:

Swim Lane for Medical Pre-Authorization Workflow


Illustration from Morguefiles, swim lanes by dtcreations

Swim lane diagram created by the author.