Diagram with Swim Lanes

Improve the organization of your process diagrams by adding swim lanes. Read on to learn how to work with swim lanes in Lucidchart.

The swim lane shape library is a premium feature available to Professional, Team, and Enterprise accounts. Please see our pricing page or contact our sales team for more details.

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.

Here is some helpful nomenclature to keep in mind when reading through this article.
  • A swim lane is a container shape used to organize objects in a diagram, typically a process flowchart.
  • A swim lane diagram is a diagram created using one or more swim lanes, including the contents of the lanes.
  • A pool consists of one or more swim lanes combined as a single grouped shape.
  • Swim lanes can be identified with text labels. The section that contains the label is called the header.
  • The original lane of your pool is the base lane, and the side of the base lane that does not touch other lanes is called the base side of the pool.
To add the swim lane shape library to your document, follow these steps:
  1. Press M on your keypad or click Shapes to open the shape manager.
  2. Expand the Flowchart Shapes library.
  3. Check the box next to Containers. The containers shape library will appear in your toolbox.
Note: You can also access swim lanes through the UML shape library. These swim lanes have slightly different functionality from those found in the Flowchart Shapes library. To learn how to access and work with UML swim lanes, see the section below.
The basics
  • You can start building your swim lane diagram by dragging out the vertical or horizontal swim lane shape from the containers shape library.

    flowchart_container_shape_library.png

    Note: You can change the orientation of your diagram at any point (see next bullet to learn how).
  • When working with swim lane shapes, an advanced shape bar will appear above your canvas. Use the settings on this bar to add more swim lanes, change swim lane and text orientation, and modify header or lane color.

    swim_lane_shapes_advanced_shape_bar.png
Modifying lanes
  • When you add more lanes to your diagram, the swim lanes will group together to form a pool. Click once on a swim lane's header or border to select and make changes to the entire pool.

    swim_lane_click_once.png

    Double-click to select and make changes to the specific swim lane.

    swim_lane_click_twice.png
When you hover over the header or base side of your swim lane, your cursor will display as a 4-pronged arrow. Click and drag to move your swim lane.

move_pointer_cursor_swim_lanes.png

When you hover over the border of your swim lane, your cursor will display as an arrow perpendicular to the border. Click and drag the border to resize your swim lane.

Swim Lane Border
To change the label within a swim lane’s header, double click anywhere inside the header so that the text is highlighted, then type the new label over the existing text.

swim_lane_highlight_label.png

swim_lane_old_label.png

To change the orientation of a swim lane’s label, select the swim lane, then click the desired Text Orientation option from the advanced shape bar.

swim_lane_orientation.png
To change the lane color of a swim lane, follow these steps:
  1. Select the swim lane.
  2. Click the Lane color swatch in the advanced shape bar.
  3. Select your desired color.
To change the header color of a swim lane, follow these steps:
  1. Select the swim lane.
  2. Click the Header color swatch in the advanced shape bar.
  3. Select your desired color.
You can magnetize objects to a swim lane so that when you move it, they move with it. To magnetize a swim lane, select the lane, then click the magnet icon on the right side of the properties bar.

magnitization.png
To access UML swim lanes, follow these steps:
  1. Press M on your keypad or click Shapes to open the shape manager.
  2. Search UML and expand the UML Shapes library.

    access_uml_swim_lane._shape_library.png
  3. Check the box next to UML State/Activity.

    expand_unl_library.png

    This library will appear in your toolbox, with the swim lane options as the last three shapes.

    uml_swim_lane_shaes.png
How can I create a multidimensional swim lane?
Lucidchart’s UML State/Activity shape library contains multidimensional swim lanes. See the section above to learn how to access these shapes.

How do I select a the swim lane in my diagram?
Since swim lanes are container shapes, it is not possible to select them by clicking inside the container. To select a swim lane that is on your canvas, click on its header or anywhere along its border.

How do I resize the swim lanes in my diagram individually?
When you add an additional lane to your swim lane diagram, it will be added on top or to the right of the existing lane(s). It is only possible to adjust an individual lane’s width from its top or right-side border. When you click and drag on the bottom/left border of a lane, you will move the lane and resize the width of any lanes below or to the left of it.

Is it possible to re-order the swim lanes in my diagram?
No, it is not currently possible to re-order the swim lanes in your diagram.

If I delete a swim lane from my diagram, will the contents be deleted too?
No, when you delete a swim lane, its contents will remain on the canvas.

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:

Activity_Diagram_with_Swimlanes_Example__1_.png

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.

SwimLaneNames.png

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.

Steps.png

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.


Related Articles

Introduction to Flowcharting
Use Layers to Create a Current/Future State Swim Lane Diagram
Work with Lines
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