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How to Effectively Make a Swimlane Diagram

Swimlane Diagram tutorials for PowerPoint, Visio, Excel, Word

Getting Started with Swimlane Diagrams

Professionals who want to document any business process model or add an extra layer of clarity to process mapping can do so by creating a swimlane diagram. Placing activities within horizontal or vertical swim lanes associated with relevant parties involved in the process, this type of flowchart increases accountability and provides support for process improvement.

For those who are not familiar with using dedicated swimlane diagram tools to build process charts or activity diagrams, we have put together a series of resources and tutorials to help you achieve this goal. We’ve focused on how to make process flow diagrams using 4 of the most popular apps in the Microsoft Office suite, namely:

To be able to effectively create a swimlane diagram using any of the tools above, we’ll cover a few basic notions as a starting point.

The Structure of a Swimlane Diagram – Elements, Outline

A swimlane or cross-functional diagram (also known as Rummler-Brache diagram) uses swimlanes and other standard symbols to pinpoint who is accountable for what parts of a process. Allocating specific tasks to major participants and illustrating how these different agents interact to complete the process, swimlane diagrams provide an easy-to-read map of responsibilities in that given framework.

To begin outlining any swimlane diagram, here are the aspects you need to consider:

  • Set a goal and determine what process(es) should be employed to achieve that goal;
  • Break the work down to actionable steps (sub-processes) and clearly define the boundaries between them;
  • Identify the major participants in the process and allocate them a separate swimlane;
    For an existing process, research its steps and show the interconnections, communications and handoffs between the lanes.
    For a new process that is to be modeled, delineate the process steps which would improve quality and efficiency.
  • Confirm your outline with participants and adjust it accordingly.

Once a final version of the plan is ready, the diagram can be used to present it to higher management or other stakeholders and monitor its progress with every project review meeting.

Creating Swimlane Diagrams with Microsoft Office Tools - Tutorials

Below, you will find the step-by-step tutorials on how to build swimlane diagrams with your usual Microsoft Office tools.

How to make Swimlane Diagrams in PowerPoint

  1. Create swimlane containers

    1. Open PowerPoint and select a new blank presentation.
    2. Go to the Insert tab, click Shapes and add a large rectangle to your slide (this will act as the body of your swimlane).
    3. Add another text box on top or the left of the rectangle to use it as the title section of your swimlane.
    4. Select both shapes, then right-click and select Group.
      This will unify the two boxes and allow you to change the overall color of your swimlane (we recommend making the background transparent).
      When done, copy-paste your swimlane as many times as necessary.
  2. Add labels to your swimlanes – type the relevant participants in the title section, after you added text boxes.
  3. Build a flowchart using the shapes and connectors from the Shapes section of the Insert tab – now that you’ve created your swimlanes, add a flowchart to illustrate how the steps of your process are distributed and connected.
  4. Format the shapes of your diagram – use the format shape pane to customize the colors, fonts and sizes of your flowchart shapes and better organize the content of your diagram.
Swimlane Diagram tutorial for PowerPoint


Swimlane diagram maker for PowerPoint

Use Office Timeline to automatically generate swimlane visuals starting from pre-built templates.

Swimlane Diagram Made in PowerPoint

How to make Swimlane Diagrams in Visio

  1. Open Visio and select the type of process flowchart you want to create by double-clicking on it from the template gallery.
    For the present tutorial, we have used the Cross-Functional Flowchart template with a horizontal orientation of the swimlanes. Once you set the default orientation of your functional bands, the basic outline of your diagram is generated.
  2. Define swimlanes – from the Shapes window on the right, add as many bands as you need by dragging a Swimlane shape (either horizontal or vertical, depending on the general orientation for which you opted at step #1) and dropping it onto an empty area of the diagram. Use the orange connection indicator that appears to place the swimlanes exactly where you want them to go.
  3. Label your swimlanes - double-click on each swimlane’s label bar (titled Function by default) to list the names of your team members.
  4. Add process shapes to your swimlanes – choose the desired process elements from the Basic Flowchart Shapes section, and drag & drop them into their corresponding swimlane. When the shape is contained in the swimlane, a green highlight shows up.
    To label any process shape, simply double-click on it and type in your text.
  5. Add connectors to create a process flow – click on any of the four arrows (Up/Down – Left/Right) that become visible once you hover over a shape, and use your cursor (with right-click held down) to draw a connecting line in the direction of another shape.
    If you want to map out your process in more detail, you can use Separators from the Flowchart Shapes section to define stages.
  6. Format your diagram – use the formatting options of Home and Design tabs on Visio ribbon to customize fonts, colors, background and other aspects of your overall graphic.
    To change the size of a swimlane, drag its separator lines to adjust its width and its end line to alter its length.
Swimlane Diagram tutorial for Visio


How to make Swimlane Diagrams in Excel

  1. Open a new spreadsheet in Excel.
  2. Create swimlane containers by formatting the height and width of the cells.
    1. Select all the columns (for vertical swimlanes) or rows (for horizontal swimlanes) that you will need to create the skeleton of your swimlane diagram.
    2. Drag from the boundary until you reach the desired width or length.
    3. Resize cells at the top or the left of the selected columns or rows so you can use one for your swimlane titles, and the adjacent cells that will hold the content of your diagram.
  3. Label containers – with the outline of your swimlane diagram ready, give titles to each of the columns or rows to designate the participant in the process. To enhance visualization, we recommend that you use colors for your swimlanes.
  4. Create a flowchart – use the shapes and connectors from Insert > Shapes to map out the steps/activities of your process in their corresponding containers.
Swimlane Diagram tutorial for Excel


How to make Swimlane Diagrams in Word

  1. Prepare a new document – open a new Word document and change the orientation of your page to Landscape to have more room to work with.
  2. Create Swimlanes
    1. Go to Insert > Shapes.
    2. Add a rectangle for the body of your swimlane, and then a smaller one on top or the left of the first shape (that will be the title of the container).
    3. Group the two shapes by selecting them both, right-clicking and choosing Group from the small menu that appears.
      We’ve changed the color of the swimlane containers to transparent to ensure more clarity.
    4. Copy and paste the original shape until you have enough swimlanes to complete your multi-column diagram.
    5. Label your swimlanes using text boxes from the Insert tab to represent the major participants in your process.
  3. Build a flowchart into your swimlanes using the shapes and connectors from Insert > Shapes.
  4. Format shapes – customize the color, font, style and other aspects of your flowchart shapes after you select the ones you want to highlight.
Swimlane Diagram tutorial for Word


With any of the tutorials above, you will see that creating a swimlane diagram is possible but not ideal as there are limitations to what you can do to customize, edit and generate a uniform graphic. As an alternative, Office Timeline enables you to build stunning swimlane diagrams directly in PowerPoint with incredible ease by providing a variety of swimlane templates, intuitive interface and rich customization options.

For more information on why you should use a dedicated software, check out our section about swimlane diagram tools.

Start diagramming now

Use our free PowerPoint add-in to create amazing project visuals with swimlanes in just a few clicks.

Swimlane Diagram made in PowerPoint