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Using Swim Lanes to Model the Flow of Control of Key Business Activities Across the Organisation

Swim Lanes are used to group activities according to their responsibilities, to show how flow of control passes from different organisations in a business process. For example, placing an order for a book from an online store involves a flow of control from customer to the sales department to the warehouse.


open full size diagram (150Kb) in a separate window

The advantage of over some other modelling techniques is that Swim Lanes are very useful for identifying bottlenecks within processes, between departments, and/or organisations.

Using specially designed software tools Swim Lanes can be created and animated to simulate specific scenarios to help understand the behaviour of processes under extreme circumstances. For example, what happens if a call centre becomes inundated with calls, or an insurance company becomes flooded with insurance claims? At what point would existing processes collapse and what spare capacity would have to be available to avoid such situations occurring?

When asked to assess the capability of the IT support function of a large transport organisation to respond to and resolve corporate-wide IT disasters, Swim Lanes helped us to identify a number of weaknesses which would otherwise not have been immediately apparent. Based on the findings, KBR Consulting recommended and set up a separate unit to manage these issues. The unit operated successfully over the millennium period and was adopted by the organisation as the blueprint for a crisis management unit for business issues.

Interpreting the Diagram

The key symbols on the diagram are:

To read Swim Lane diagrams it is recommended to start in the top left hand corner and read from left to right and top to bottom. For example if we start at the top left hand corner of the Swim Lane diagram at the top of the page we can read the following:

  • A user logs a call
  • Service Line capture the call - details of the call are logged in Quetzal ( a call logging system)
  • Service Line evaluates the call whilst the user is on the phone using scripts from Quetzal. After evaluation one of three things can happen:
  • If evaluated successfully
    Quetzal is updated and the call closed
  • If the call has not been successfully evaluated
    the problem is handed over to 2nd/3rd line support, or
    1st line support continue with further investigation.