Swim Lane Mapping for Non-Swimmers

Here’s what not to do:

  • Model all your processes across the organization in the As-Is state first. Why not? This takes forever, and when you’re done, it’s likely they will have changed. You don’t get any business results from improvements this way as well.
  • Get the As-Is process diagram perfect. It could take several hours and meetings to do this, and without much benefit. The As-Is map is just that—the current state. It is the baseline, representing today’s method. The BPI team will analyze, gather data and change it, redesign it. No need to have it perfect.

Now here are some tips for what to do:

  • Choose one instance to document the swimlane As-Is process diagram.
    Begin by having the team choose a single instance, meaning an actual example of a completed process – a common one with problems but not the worst one ever. Document it and stick to that instance. It’s much faster and doesn’t get all confused with all the exceptions, creating a spaghetti diagram. Document that instance exactly as it happened with its exceptions. Documenting one instance with a team of 6-10 members should take only 90-120 minutes.

    Then decide as a team if you want to document additional instances (which will go much faster than the first one). If you have a different customer segment with different steps that might be useful, or a different path because of a specific triage area. But you don’t need to document 10-15 instances. Too many instances and diagrams can lead to analysis paralysis.
  • Maintain the I-4 Lists to document improvement ideas as they come up anytime.
    The I-4 Lists are a parking lot of four specific items:
    • Issues – for any problems in the process
    • Improvement Ideas – for suggestions of recommendations to make the process better
    • Indicative Data – for quantitative data you want to collect in the process
    • Instance Differences – for examples of instances where the process is done differently in another region, with another customer, etc. from the process instance that is being captured now.

    While you are documenting the instance of the swimlane diagram all kinds of comments come up. As the Team Facilitator, you have to manage this or the diagram will take several hours vs. 90 minutes to 2 hours to complete. This I-4 list is better than a general parking lot because it gathers the information you need. And it keeps the team from going into detail, trying to solve problems, talking extensively about improvement ideas.

Want to learn more? In my new book, The BPI Blueprint: A Step-By-Step Guide to Making your Business Process Improvement Projects Simple, Structured, and Successful, there is a full chapter devoted to this topic including

  • How to transition from the high-level map to the swimlane diagram
  • Ordered steps on how to set up and document a swimlane diagram
  • How the Team Facilitator manages the process diagram creation
  • Facilitator tips on getting the most from the participants and keeping the process moving
  • When and how to use BPMN for the process diagram

SweetCover V5 thumbMy new book, The BPI Blueprint: A Step-By-Step Guide to Making your Business Process Improvement Projects Simple, Structured, and Successful, was just published in February and is now available on Amazon.com

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Shelley Sweet