Swim lanes divide your flowcharts into meaningful sections. You can use swim lanes to sort responsibilities by person or to separate a process into phases. In Lucidchart, you can magnetize objects to a swim lane so that when you move it, they move with it. Take after Michael Phelps and become a swim lane champion today!
Are you trying to visualize a process that includes multiple steps and actors? Do you struggle to represent which actor is responsible for each step? Don’t worry – swim lanes provide a flexible framework to help you organize process diagrams and flowcharts. To demonstrate exactly how swim lanes help organize your diagrams, this section will focus on the ATM activity diagram example shown below:
This activity diagram template explains all of the steps that occur when a customer uses a bank ATM to withdraw money. Although the customer initiates the transaction process, there are a lot of "behind the scenes" steps that the customer might not see or understand. However, it’s important for these steps to be documented somewhere so that if there is a problem, the bank can pinpoint exactly where the transaction failed.
Swim lanes are useful in this case because they break down the transaction process into three categories of actors: customer, ATM machine, and bank. Each vertical swim lane represents the actor that completes the steps in that lane. You can locate the actors’ names at the top of each lane, so when you look at the diagram you can easily determine the steps each actor owns.
Swim lanes are particularly useful in cases like this where two steps might occur simultaneously, but fall under different actors. For example, although the customer only experiences the “Enter Pin” step, the swim lane structure shows that another step occurs at the same time on the bank’s side. Not only does the customer need to enter their pin, but the bank must also authorize the pin.
Regardless of what process or activity you want to visualize, it’s important to make sure your diagrams represent not only the steps, but also the order and owners. Without swim lanes, it’s possible that you could demonstrate ownership by color coding individual step shapes, but this alternative would force your audience to constantly reference a color-coded ledger. Instead, swim lanes save time and bring clarity to your most complex processes.
Depending on your diagram, it could be useful to try horizontal swim lanes instead of the vertical lanes shown in this example. We know processes are constantly changing, so Lucidchart makes it easy to modify the format or style of your swim lanes. Add or delete lanes, adjust lane sizes, or add color to your diagram as you go, and don’t worry if you make a mistake. You can always revert to a previous version with revision history. Once you’re done, share your work with collaborators, publish your document, or quickly transform your diagram into a slideshow deck with presentation mode.
Try it today with the template shown in this section, or browse additional swim lane templates here! For more information on how to begin diagramming, check out our Introduction to Flowcharting article.
Follow this simple process to add the appropriate shape library and start using swim lanes:
- Open the Shape Library Manager.
- In the left column under “Standard,” select “Flowchart Shapes,” and press “Save.” (Note: You should see a checkmark next to “Flowchart Shapes” if you have access to both the “Flowchart” and “Containers” libraries.)
- In the Toolbar on the left-hand side of the editor, find the “Containers” library and select the horizontal or vertical swim lane. You can see shape names by hovering your mouse over a shape.
- Drag and drop the shape onto your canvas.
- Change the label of your swim lane by double-clicking on the header.
- Click and drag the borders to resize.
When you click on the border of your swim lane, a panel should appear above your document, under the properties bar. This panel will allow you to adjust the number or orientation of your swim lanes.
To add or remove lanes, change the number of lanes listed in the panel.
To change lane or text orientation, adjust the "orientation" via the pop-up panel. When you reorient a lane, all objects in the lane will reorient as well.
To move a lane, right-click on the border or header of the lane. Select “Move Lane Up,” “Move Lane Down,” “Move Lane to Left,” or “Move Lane to Right” depending on your desired direction.
- Click on the border of a lane and drag your mouse to resize the lane.
You can style swim lanes using the Properties bar at the top of the editor. Match your desired action with the number on the image below.
- Edit text font, size, and color.
- Change fill color and texture.
- Change line color, thickness, and pattern.
To add a shadow, click the Shapes Option icon > and switch the button above SHADOW from off to on. You can then adjust the shadow’s distance, blur, color, and angle.