Is it time to lose the Swimlane for good ?

From the early days we’ve been drawing process models with swimlanes to depict where a process sits inside an organisation. Throughout BPM history we’ve been trying to tear down silos and functional barriers and educate business how to model their organisations in new ways and yet we still insist on using the Swimlane.

Is it time to lose the Swimlane for good ?

Does using a swimlane only reinforce the fact we’re still ingrained in a silo’d or functional mentality ?

I would argue that is really doesn’t matter where the process sits inside an organisation, only that it is performed and executed with the goal or strategy success in mind, that it’s ownership sits outside of a functional box and that with a collaborative spirit it’s kept up to date and runs as efficiently as possible.

Can we break away from tradition and habit, or do we allow BPMS providers to continue to constrain us from moving on and evolving BPM into something fresh with the times……


8 responses to “Is it time to lose the Swimlane for good ?

  1. I’d agree we should, although how we depict it is another matter. I am looking at how we seriously automate going forward and I believe we have at least 12 months before we look at technology or processes just to get the organisation right. Moving to swimlanes to represent process after that would simply revert us back to the here and now and the thinking that perpetuates silos.I’m yet to be convinced the BPM vendors have grasped the fundamental organisational changes required to effectively transform the enterprise (large ones anyway) – and I’m not talking about the buzz of Enterprise 2.0! Please let me know if you have have written about one that has :)Mike

  2. Do you build your swimlanes around the organization? That is, do your lanes represent these silos? Mine are built around the various functions in the business since that’s were the actual steps in the process are executed. Person A accomplishes a task and Person B accomplishes the next step. They could be in the same or two different departments/silos but their function(s) are defined in the workflow system. Tasks are assigned to a function and anyone who is responsible for that function can see that in their task bin, choose it and complete it. This is the normal order of business based on what the various organizations within the business have responsibilities for. i.e., you wouldn’t ask a sales associate to do what an accountant does. Swimlanes recognize this and reflect rather than restrain growth. What model are you trying to move to and how do swimlanes keep you from moving toward that objective? Yes, I’ve seen associates turned into "robots", almost mindlessly picking their tasks, completing them, chosing the next task, on and on. If that’s the doldrums you’d like to release people from, I’m all for that!

  3. Role-based swim lanes are extremely useful to me to to reinforce that the organization is NOT siloed. I push the subject matter experts to think "roles" not organizations or job descriptions. One person might execute many roles (‘wearing many hats’), and one role might be executed by many different persons (a good example is ‘customer relations’). It’s not always easy to get them thinking that way, but once they are on-board with the idea it actually contributes to a team-building attitude.Without exception, my clients love the role-based swim lanes on the process flows. They are an important and core visual element for the teams of subject matter experts and the client organization to understand the responsibility for the work and where the handoffs occur, and to point out possible opportunities to re-group or re-assign responsibility.

  4. Swimlanes are here to stay.Some people think process, some people think organisation. These are two distinct layers that complement each other.Process Maps and Procedures for the process layer.Org Chart and Duty Statements for the organisation layer.Often, we like to see how the two work together.Swimlanes are a simple and effective tool to show both the process and organisation layers in the one diagram. At the detail level.There are alternatives that can also work:- identify the owner on the process map, or – identify the processes owned on the organisation chart.

  5. I find swimlanes extremely helpful especially when we’re reengineering processes and including automation. Many of our clients are modernizing their technology and reengineering their processes. The swill helps to highlight the changes of the new processes and to identify the new functional roles and responsibility.I agree the swimlane approach could use some added functionality and some improved capability. I am also open to new tools as well. But, for now, I am sticking with the swimlanes. They work.

  6. OK, I’m new to the automated tools that might replace swim lanes. We use swim lanes as our standard. We’re in a SOX environment so we start with swimlanes. Then we develop procedures, policies, practices, and for SOX documents, risk & control matrices that are tied to numbers in the swim lane diagram and identify what types of controls need to be applied at what points in the processes. Our compliance function monitors to see that the controls are being managed appropriately. Are there tools that would automate a good deal of that work? I do see great value in taking groups through flowcharting to help them to see more cross-functionally. I would not want to lose that interactivity and the aha moments that go with it.

  7. It makes a difference whether you are depicting an existing “As-Is” process or designing a new “To-Be” process. Swim-lanes in an existing process are a useful mechanism for illustrating what may (or may not) be unhelpful segregation / silos. However, if you are designing a new process, automatically including them (out of habit) may not be a very progressive way of viewing the new world.

    It should be noted that some functions within an organisation are better performed by “independent” sub-units as some activities will exhibit a natural tension between them. If your process requires some sort of checking or control, it may not be in your interest for the roles of poacher and gamekeeper to be played by the same person.

  8. Process flowcharts are a way of expressing what happens in the real world. If you want to get rid of swimlanes, make sure every process is executed by either one person or one system. As long as people and systems work together to complete a process (and I don’t see that going away for many processes), swimlanes are a perfectly fine way to visualize what is going on.

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