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For some, the Process Map is the #1 process improvement tool available. And if that’s true, the Swimlane Map is an even better tool for mapping processes. Adding lanes kicks the analysis and discovery up a notch. It’s great for highlighting who-does-what and uncovering hand-offs that result in dropped balls. It also goes by many names so whether it’s “Deployment Map,” “Cross-Functional Map” or the more athletic “Swimlane Map,” it’s a great thing to get better at. Join this 1-hour Intermediate webinar for a look at this process workhorse and find out how to make it work for you!

Webinar Level

  • Intermediate


In this 1-hour Intermediate webinar, we will cover the following questions:

  • What is a Swimlane Map?
  • Why would you use one?
  • What are some ways to enhance it?
  • What should you watch out for?
  • What are some tips and tricks?

Tools & Templates


Elisabeth Swan -

Elisabeth Swan, Managing Partner

Elisabeth is a Managing Partner and Master Black Belt of Elisabeth has over 25 years of success helping leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab, and Starwood Hotels & Resorts build problem solving muscles and use Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.

Webinar Transcript

Tracy O’Rourke: Hi, everyone. Welcome to’s webinar. Thanks for spending some quality time with us today. Hundreds of people have registered for this webinar and we are excited that you’re all here.

Lean and Six Sigma are the go-to improvement methods used by leading organizations all over the world to delight customers, minimize cost, maximize profit, and develop better teams. Every month, we craft webinars just for you, our global learner community. And the goal is to simplify concepts and tools of Lean and Six Sigma so you can understand and apply them more easily and be more successful.

So today’s webinar is titled How to Make the Swimlane Map Work for You instead of the opposite where you’re working for the map.

And I’m Tracy O’Rourke. I’m a Managing Partner at And today’s presenter is also a Managing Partner at, my colleague, the wonderfully talented, innovative, and consummately passionate about learning, Elisabeth Swan. How, are you today, Elisabeth?

Elisabeth Swan: I’m good. Thank you, Tracy.

About Our Presenter

Tracy O’Rourke: So, Elisabeth, a little background. She is Managing Partner and Executive Advisor at as we know. She is the co-host of the Just-In-Time Café which is super fun. She is a long-time Six Sigma Consultant and Master Black Belt Coach and Trainer for over 25 years. And she has got 3 decades in the business. She has performed at Improv Boston because she is a funny gal.

And oh by the way, she is now a co-author of a new book, The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit. Woohoo! So that’s a little about Elisabeth.

Elisabeth Swan: Thank you, Tracy!

Tracy O’Rourke: She is definitely not boring.

Elisabeth Swan: OK!

How to Interact

Tracy O’Rourke: OK. So here are a few housekeeping notes before we begin. At the end of the presentation, we will have a question-and-answer session. But if you have a question, please feel free to ask the question any time by entering it into the question window. You will be getting a copy of these slides after the presentation on our website.

We also will ask you to participate and vote in some polls throughout the webinar. And if we don’t answer all of your questions during the webinar, we will be sure to post those answers as well as share recording of this webinar on our website at

Well, hello, Sebastian. Sebastian said hello in the chat window. Thank you.

Elisabeth Swan: Hello, Sebastian!

Where Are You From?

Tracy O’Rourke: Please join us for our first activity, where are you from? So there are hundreds of people like we said registered for this webinar. We’d love to see where everyone is located. So go ahead and click on Questions and type in where you’re joining us from today.

All right. So, we have Romero from Colombia. Lisa from Pensacola, Florida. Laura Hall from Reno. Oh my gosh! Sebastian is from Ghana. We’ve got Christopher from Bay Area. Laura from Minnesota.

We have people from Tulsa, Duarte, California, Margaret from Vienna, Virginia. We’ve got a lot of people in the United States but we also have some people like Panama, Central America, Chris, and Alyssa from Montreal, Canada. And we also have Robert from Cambridge, UK. Welcome.

We also have Fernando from Portugal. And Carl, he’s from Costa Rica. I was just there in March. Too bad we couldn’t connect.

All right. So there are a lot of people here today. And Enrique from Angola too. Welcome everyone. We want to get started. We know your time is valuable. So I’m going to hand it over to you, Elisabeth. Take it away.

Who Is

Elisabeth Swan: Thank you, Tracy. And if you want to know who my co-author is, that’s Tracy O’Rourke. So we will tell you more about the book later. I am sorry I cannot see all of you but I’m so happy you guys joined us. As Tracy said earlier, we’ve both been with since its inception. And our mission is to make it easy for you to build your problem-solving muscles. And that means we simplify complex concepts. We’ve made our training extremely practical and we think enjoyable.

We provide a running case study at the Bahama Bistro. Our restaurant team applies the tools to their restaurant problems. And aside from this webinar series, we put out blogs, podcasts, book reviews, and a book and lots of other information to get you where you need to go.

We’ve taught and used Lean Six Sigma for decades because it supplies the best toolkit for problem-solving. And thankfully, there’s a growing list of companies who agree with us. Here are some of those companies.

We’ve Helped People From…

You can brick and mortar, online, and there are diverse industries, health care, financial services, manufacturing, government. And the reason is that Lean Six Sigma is about problem-solving, and like all of you, these companies want to be the best at problem-solving. So you’re in good company. So, more on some of the benefits later. But first, let’s review today’s agenda.

Today’s Agenda

This webinar is about specifically swimlane maps. But these techniques you’re going to learn about, a lot of them could be applied to detail mapping in general. So we’re going to talk about what is the swimlane, why would you use one, what are some ways to enhance the swimlane, what are you supposed to watch out for and what are some tips and tricks?

The Swimlane Map

So the swimlane map, it’s a detailed flow map that lets you visualize the cross-functional relationships. For that reason, it’s also called a cross-functional or a deployment map. We prefer the word the swimlane because it’s easy to visualize the lanes of a swimming pool. And when you construct your swimlane map, you can think about a coach saying, “Stay in your lane.” Everybody gets their own lane or every department gets their own lane in a swimlane map. So let’s look a little bit deeper at what’s in the map.

Elements of the Swimlane Map

So one the left, this column is where the functions or departments go. So that can be start with a customer usually but these are functional areas. And then the process steps flow from left to right. So you can see on the bottom, we put the word time with an arrow because time is flowing from left to right.

The process steps are in these boxes. These are the tasks. These are the action taking place inside this process.

And then back to this idea of time, anything that is in that same column is happening at the same time. Those are parallel, things happening in parallel.

Why Would You Use One?

So why would you use a swimlane map? Number one, you get that detailed look of the process segment. Usually, it’s an area you select from your SIPOC or from your value stream map. You’d find waste in the process. You’re looking for opportunities, pain points. You look to uncover reasons for long lead times like rework loops or handoffs or excessive reviews and approvals, redundant data entry, interruptions, multitasking.

You’d find waste in the process. You’re looking for opportunities, pain points. You look to uncover reasons for long lead times like rework loops or handoffs or excessive reviews and approvals, redundant data entry, interruptions, multitasking.

So you’re looking what detailed maps can give you and you also want to see, this is specific to the swimlane, how often units or information or applications switch from one lane to the other.

Another great reason to use a swimlane is once you update it to the new and improved To-Be Map, you could use it to train new hires. It becomes an instructional map because people can look right to their lane. That’s me. That’s what I do. That separate things by the people’s lanes.

So remember, you start with a SIPOC. You want to get high level before you decide what to go into in terms of detail or where you want to go into in terms of detail.

Poll #1

So, let’s get an idea from all of you joining us today about which map you guys generally use. Tracy and I are going to put this one out and we just launched that poll. So go ahead and enter your thoughts on this one.

How about you, Tracy, what type of map do you use the most?

Tracy O’Rourke: Well, hopefully, I don’t skew people’s answers. But I actually do use number one is SIPOC which is the high level map because that’s almost always a requirement for understanding a high level process, the high level view of a process.

And then next to that is probably the swimlane map. Yeah. So both of those – and because I’m working a lot of administrative processes, that’s what I think is the reason is people prefer the swimlane map to really visualize the process and the handoffs. How about you?

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah, I’m with you. And I think it’s because we both focus largely on service industry processes and this one is the most useful for that arena. Let’s take a look at what this group – what do you see, Tracy?

Tracy O’Rourke: So the basic flow map is 45% followed by the swimlane at 29% and then the value stream map is 21% and other is 5%.

Elisabeth Swan: And I think that’s great. I think a basic flow map is actually would be my second pick and sometimes processes can be so messy and you have to start there. The swimlane might be too much to take on to get to a swimlane right away. So those are good. Thank you for that.

Selecting What to Map

So, selecting what to map. As Tracy said, you want to start with that high-level map and the SIPOC is a great all-purpose high-level map. The helpful thing is to scoop your swimlane both narrow and deep. So that means you might need to restrict the process to one product or service type.

So some examples would be maybe you’re going to map that application process for mortgages that are $300,000 and smaller. So that might be one scoop.

Another one, another example would be you’re going to take the accounts receivable process but just for international orders and just for one top selling product. And that might be based on what you’ve already seen as a potential issue. That’s where you think problems are coming from.

So scooping down, what’s addressed is going to help you focus your efforts and make the map easier to create. This also enables the team to develop specific countermeasures for that issue. And these are all as a result of the problem and goal statements that you developed upfront.

So determine first and last steps so you know what to start, where to start and stop the swim lane. And you form a team with the people who the work. Remember, the bulk of that team should be the people who actually work in this process. You may have a supervisory person in there but you really want the bulk to be those people. No more than 10. I think that’s past baseball team. So that seems too many to me but definitely no more than 10.

And then if the process is IT-dependent, it’s usually prudent to get somebody from IT on that mapping team too. You can see those interactions. So those are some good first steps with selecting it.

Conduct a Process Walk First

Another great thing to do is a process walk. Once you walked the process, you have a better idea of how to map it. And once you walked the process, you may also then decide, “Hey, we’re going to start with a swimlane map.” Or maybe you decide that process, you really want to start with a value stream map or maybe you decide we’re going to go and develop a spaghetti map first. It might be a different map you want to go after. So you want to make that decision upfront.

Once you walked the process, you have a better idea of how to map it. And once you walked the process, you may also then decide, “Hey, we’re going to start with a swimlane map.”

But when you do the process walk and what’s pictured here is the process walk interview sheet. You can download that from the website. But there are webinars and single modules on how to conduct process walks if you are unfamiliar with those.

But once you conduct that, you get not only a familiarity with the process but you get some data. You can see there are questions on here regarding the data. And you’ll find out challenges already and then we can bring those into visibility on the map. So great adjunct, great tool to use prior to mapping.


Now, whenever possible, you are starting with a physical map. You want a real tactile, visual up-on-the wall somewhere and these are the tools that you need. You need good Sharpie pens we like to use because then you can see what people have written on the sticky notes. We’d like to use different colors. You could use those for different lanes or different visual management.

Here is that painter’s tape so you don’t wreck the walls, pair of scissors to cut the butcher paper, and a good technique with the butcher paper is you estimate how long you think that should be and then you add 50%. We always underestimate how complicated and long processes actually can be.

For the sticky notes, I prefer the 3×3 sticky notes. Other people are more comfortable with the 4×6. Again, a lot of these things are going to be tailored to your needs and your supplies.

So those are the first step.

Transactional Mapping Symbols

Now, transactional mapping symbols. I use the three symbols on the left almost exclusively, or let’s say 80% of the time. I’ve definitely used the ones on the right. I just find myself mainly using what’s on the left. When you switch from a physical map to a digital map, when you start using mapping software, then you might want to put in some other symbols. They got them right there for you in a little kit. You can pull them right on your screen.

The most common one again, you can have the terminator. It shows the start and stop of a specific process, inputs come in, outputs come out. Let’s see exactly where that happens on the map.

The form is another big one I’ve used once we get into the digital world because transactional processes are often run by forms. So I remember a – I’ll just give you an example why forms are important. I was working with a team up in Alberta Health Systems. This is a group that supplied cell phones to all the medical personnel. And it was taking two weeks to get that person a cell phone, which is a long time when you got people that are out there trying to help patients.

So they are trying to look at why did that take so long. And when they mapped it, they saw that everybody was running around trying to get a VP signature because the form said you have to get a VP signature. And they had long since decided they did not need a VP signature. So they were ignoring that. But they didn’t change the form because you had to submit changes to forms to a whole group called Forms. It was a whole department. It could have been on the swimlane.

And they took a long time to make sure that this would not bother anybody else or disrupt anything so they just never did it. So they were left with that 2-week delay.

So this to me is the tail-wagging the dog. So forms also can be a great symbol to add because they dictate so much of our behavior.

And then this last one we called the D or delay. That’s a great one. Again, the whole point of mapping is to make the process visible and make problems visible. So a delay if you want to really point out or here’s where things are totally bugging down is a great symbol to point that out. They might even use a different colored Post-It for that as well. Those are really helpful.

So, endless array of potential symbols. Tracy and I both talked about it. We really use very few. The action step, the decision that can help you with whether things are getting reworked and then that pain or opportunity, this is a starburst. Value stream maps use that to write down potential solutions. Usually use a pink Post-It note. Put a big starburst on it to say, “Hey, there’s a problem right here.”

So those are our take on transactional mapping symbols.

Ground Rules

Here are some good mapping ground rules. Number one, map what’s happening now. Current state. Not what should happen. Not what’s in an SOP somewhere. Not what you’re the solutionist. But what is happening now.

80-20 Rule. Map what happens 80% of the time. What’s normal? What’s normal in this step? Don’t try to capture everything single outlier. Just go for what’s normal.

One step per Post-It note. People try to cram sort, “I do this and I do this and I do this. And then the pass it over here.” What’s helpful is to see one step at a time. So separate those out.

Next one. It’s often helpful especially when there are a lot of rules is to add a job title, not a person’s name. Just the job title.

Next one. Verb Noun. We see Post-It notes that say, “Communicate.” And then we have no idea. Communicate with who? About what? What are we talking about? So, we call it the minimum days of requirement of a verb and a noun on every Post-It.

Next one. One level. Stick to the same level. This can be tough. And you might have to sort of draw people back in. They might be saying, “OK, application goes to – I transfer the application to, the data entry, places it into system.” And suddenly someone says, “I turn the page over.” Well now, you’ve gone another level down. So you had to stay at the same level.

Spell it out. Too many acronyms leave people wondering, what did that actually mean? So when in doubt, spell it out.

And lastly, read it out. Once you’ve finished mapping, have people present what they’ve done. It builds engagement. It also helps with discovery, when you actually read out what you do.

So those are some good basic ground rules.

Basic Mapping Questions

Now, here are some good basic mapping questions. So, and then what happens? We find ourselves asking that all the time. Then what happens? Then what happens? So I go from this step to this step to this step.

Anything else? People leave stuff out.

Do you have to make any decisions? People leave those out.

So this is just some good helpful guidelines on basically getting the map out.

Solution parking lot is hugely valuable because what’s going to happen, just mapping turns up problems. The active mapping, the act of actually saying, “This is what we do,” people start going, “Wow! I have no idea we did that.” Why do we do that? And they say, “You know what we should do? Grab those solutions. Put them in a solution parking lot.” Have a page on the wall. Have somebody be the scribe. Always grab those. Make sure people feel heard. It’s really key.

But you’re mapping. You got a job to do. Get back to it. So grab the solutions. Put them in your parking lot.

Visual Management of Issues

Visual management. So the point of process mapping is to make the process visual. Make the problems visual. So when you see that something is an issue, let people put that starburst or however you want to do, the visual management here to make sure we can see those if we look at them.

Another thing we did. This was a mapping at Alberta Health Systems. We mapped all the way from the intake of a patient to the discharge or a patient. And there were occupational therapist and physical therapist, some doctors and nurses, and everyone came to visit that map.

We had it up in a place we called the War Room, which is probably an apt name. And we encourage people, “Come. Let us know what your pain points are. Do we have the right steps here?” And we said, “Put them right on the map. Write the pain on a pink Post-It. Put a starburst. Put it right in there.”

This room got so popular. People visited it. And we were able to solve problems just by bringing people together. We had ER nurses that never got to speak to the General Medicine nurses and they solve issues just by seeing the pain points they were putting up on the map. So very important to have visual management of process issues.

What to Look For

What to look for. Now, these next three are the basics when you’re looking at swimlane map. This one, very specific to a swimlane map. And handoffs are things you can only see with this map. They are opportunities for drop balls. They take time. They open the door for misinterpretation between two different lanes or two different departments. They cause delays. They are just a source of potential problems.

And one great metric is to just count how many handoffs are there on the as is map? Count those handoffs because if we can reduce those, we’re going to have a faster, more accurate process. So, fewer handoffs mean fewer process problems. This is a huge one.

Next up. You’re just looking for redundant steps. This is where reading stuff out really helps. If you hear yourself talking about a step and you hear, “Wow! That sounds awfully familiar to what someone else just said.”

One thing we often find is processes get complicated. People try to figure out how to make it easy for themselves.

One thing we often find is processes get complicated. People try to figure out how to make it easy for themselves. So they all start developing their own little cheat sheets. They might have whole Excel metrics to help them figure stuff out. And once they start mapping, they realized, “Other people have cheat sheets too that they developed. Everyone is developing their own cheat sheets.” Well, that sounds like duplicate work. Why don’t we create one and why don’t we make the process easier so we don’t need it? So anyway, you’re looking for redundant steps. Are we doing the same stuff?

Rework loops. Again, this is important. So often we see maps that gloss right over these. We don’t see any diamonds at all. We’re like, “Really? There are no decisions? There’s no rework ever happening?”

So people don’t think in terms of what they’re doing are decisions. You’ve got to ask specifically if they ever have to correct information that they get. Do they have to add missing information? Do they have to clarify information to ensure they understand?

So people don’t realize they are making decisions. Even if it doesn’t result to rework, decisions are something that takes time. They change the past of a unit.

Issue: Packages Backing Up

And here’s a great story about decisions. So Tracy and I just had this awesome opportunity. We went to Zingerman’s Mail Order business. They are based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They give tours. If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend.

They basically ship – they ship gift boxes that’s fine food, bread, cheeses, sauces, cakes, lots of goodies all over the country. Tom Root, the COO, told us about a time that he noticed packages at the last step piling up. So he – this is the step where they seal up the boxes, label them, and load the truck.

And the crew said stuff is coming in batches. It’s feast or famine. The guys either had nothing to work on or they were completely overloaded. And he is totally baffled because the rest of the line has a totally steady flow. They had a printer that print out the orders in a drumbeat for all the pickers. It was a very planned process. They knew their takt time. For those of you not familiar with that, that’s the customer demand. And the whole thing was operating like clockwork. It’s a gorgeous process to see.

But he realized the way he was going to try to understand this was he got on the line. So he said, “Well, let me engage and see what’s going on here.” So he got on the line and he is trying to understand it. And he looked at the process. The bin is kind of flowing past him with all the stuff the customers had ordered. Lots of combinations. Customers get to design their own gift boxes. They can go with standards or they can make it up.

So he’d let the bins of the goodies past until he saw a standard one that he really knew how to pack because the other ones, he was like, “Well, I don’t even know how it’s going to work.”

The Missing Decision

So he let the bins passed since he saw something he liked and then he understood why the boxes were backing up. He realized that everyone was doing what he was doing. They looked at the bins. Decide to take the easiest box until there was nothing left but hard ones.

So process flowed really quickly as all workers grab the easy bins and then it was slow to a halt because they all started packing the tough ones. So, elegant solution was to remove this decision from everybody. So now, and we saw it right on their line, it just said, “Pick me.” The instruction was whatever bin is there, pick it up. So that ended this issue around the issue the decision was causing.

So your job is to sift out what decisions are happening and make sure you get them on the map. Really key.

Issue: Backtracking

Another issue we’ve seen and I know that people do these swimlane maps and there are all these white space. You might have four or five lanes and some lanes are empty part of the time. There’s nothing going on there. So they think, “Well, that’s just space. I’ll just pack some more steps in there and sew up the map because this map is getting too long anyway. It’s unwieldy.”

But once you do that, you’ve taken away what the map is telling you in terms of what’s happening over time because now, those steps on the left here are not parallel. So this is – this is giving you false information. So resist the urge to do backtracking. Just because there’s room, don’t fill it up.

Poll #2

OK. So we’ve given you a whole bunch of issues and what they do to these maps. So what we want to know now is what is – find out what’s the most common mapping issue you’ve encountered? So, one is, making tasks seem simpler when they’re not, leaving out decisions, backtracking, forgetting to show the handoffs, or adding more than one tasks to one step.

So let me come over. You guys let us know what you think there. And Tracy, what’s the biggest issue you see?

Tracy O’Rourke: Well, these are all really good choices. I would say that yes, I think leaving out decisions has been a problem. People just assume, “That’s my job,” and it’s in their head and they don’t necessarily put down the decision. So that’s a big one.

But I actually feel like the one that I hear a lot is it’s the opposite of A, which is making a task harder than it is.

Elisabeth Swan: Really?

Tracy O’Rourke: People sometimes try to really make their process look complicated and they don’t like the simplicity actually of the map. They’re like, “Well, it looks great on the map but that’s not how it feels.”

Elisabeth Swan: Got it. So trying to make sure everyone knows how hard it is to do the job.

Tracy O’Rourke: Right. Yeah.

Elisabeth Swan: Well, yeah, we learned something from that too.

Tracy O’Rourke: Right.

Elisabeth Swan: People sometimes they – like, “I should have more stickies on here.” Anyways …

Tracy O’Rourke: If someone else had 7 stickies, I should have at least that.

Elisabeth Swan: Exactly.

Tracy O’Rourke: There might be mapping competition going on. All right. Let’s see what these guys had.

Elisabeth Swan: OK.

Tracy O’Rourke: OK. So we have the number one is mapping tasks that seem simple when they’re not followed very closely by leaving out decisions and adding more than one task to a step, and then fourth and fifth place is backtracking on a swimlane and forgetting to show handoffs.

Elisabeth Swan: So really, it’s a 3-way tie.

Tracy O’Rourke: Kind of.

Elisabeth Swan: Tasks are simple when they’re not, leaving out decisions, and adding more than one task to a step. All right. So that’s helpful. That’s good. People know now what to look out for.

Questions When Digging for Data

So let’s come back and move on to this other thing you can do with your swimlane map which is add data. So if you’re digging for data and a lot of these questions are also included in your process walk interview sheet, but these are the basics.

How much time does it take you to do the work?

How long does it take from when it’s available to you to when you make it available to the next person or next step?

How often does that happen?

Do you have to wait? How often is it wrong?

How often do you need more information?

Do you have any job aids?

So those are the kinds of things that will uncover data.

Adding Metric to Swimlane Maps

Now, I’m going to give you a new technique for adding metrics to a swimlane. And I’ll show you the book by the end of this webinar but I got this format from Karen Martin and Mike Osterling. We’ve interviewed them both on our podcast. We just reviewed Karen’s new book, Clarity First. But this one comes from Metrics-Based Process Mapping, a very handy book for doing exactly what we’re talking about. I’ll reference it again before the end of the webinar.

But let’s go over what they added right to the process steps on the map. First is process time. So just a reflection on process time, how long it takes to do the task with no interruptions or delays. That’s task time, think time, touch time without any interruptions.

Lead time is the total time from when the unit or the information is available for you to do to the moment that you make it available for the next person in the process. This helps you baseline how a process or a segment of a process is performing.

Now, they make a great point to put the process time in minutes and the lead time in hours or days, which is useful. That’s exactly what it’s going to come out as. And it highlights the waste. And that’s what you want to do. You want to make waste visible.

They’ve also got percent complete and accurate on here, and that means there are no errors, there’s nothing missing, there’s no need for you to get clarification. So you can use all these metrics. You can decide to use just process time. And if you have process time and you know the overall lead time from the start and end point of this map then you could subtract the process time from the lead time and get wait time. So you can – you don’t have to track everything. But this gives you – I’m giving you a method where you can get the most detail but you guys always make mapping work for you. Always use as much as is useful to you.

So on the left here, we’ve got process time, lead time, percent complete and accurate, number of steps completely, more steps, more steps, and also, number of handoffs I mentioned earlier and percent value-added. We will get to that momentarily, another technique that’s great to add to a swimlane.

Metrics on the Map

So let’s look at what does this look like on a map? So once you have every step including some amount of data, you can put at the bottom of your map. Tracy calls it the zip line. I kind of like that term.

So you’ve got process time, always on top and that’s in minutes. And you got lead time and that’s in, in this case, we’ve left it in hours.

The other thing to note about when you’re doing this is that if you have steps in parallel, and remember I told you those are happening at the same time if they’re in parallel in one column. So if you have one column then, what are you using for process time or lead time?

And what you use is the longest, the longest process time, the longest lead time because that’s your critical path. The process takes as long as the longest steps. So that’s how you decide that one.

You can choose your level of detail. I’ve also worked with teams where we just put process time on the map. We don’t put it on all the steps. We just put it on the map and we just put process time. And we back it out – we back out the wait time because we know the overall lead time. And then you can put the pain points of where or the Ds where you think the delays are.

So you have a lot of options giving you kind of the whole plate you could choose from but really helpful to add metrics to a swimlane map.

Value stream maps naturally are built to have metrics on them but having that data on the map is helpful even if you don’t have value stream map. So, really good to add to the swim lane.

Rework Metrics

So coming back to that idea of rework, so this is – whether it’s rework or decision like Tom Root was making back in Zingerman’s, how often do you stay on the happy path, right? So everything is – you’ve added some value. Is everything still good? Yes. Stay on the happy path. And the happy path to us is there are no issues. There’s nothing to take us off the route. We’re just going to keep rolling.

And how often do you say no? You want to come up with a percentage of rework because that’s something you’re going to try to understand why there’s a root cause analysis needed right there so you can drop that rework percentage down. So, really good thing to be adding and monitoring on your map.

After Mapping

OK. After mapping, you’ve got hopefully this physical map in a common space or maybe you can let people – take photos of it and send it out, however you want to share this.

If you can, ask people to visit.

You want to validate the map.

You want to add pain points like they did with the Alberta Health Systems. Add those stuff.

If you no one said anything about this, this is a huge pain point because no one knows exactly what’s happening in the process, in your process, better than you.

Choose pain points to address. You might want to use an impact effort metrics to try to narrow down what we’re going to tackle. And then you can conduct a value-added analysis. Also, another great tool.

Value Analysis Refresh

So let’s do a quick refresh on value-added analysis. So this one, you’ve got value-adding. As you recall, there are three criteria, all there have to be true for this step to be considered value-adding. Customer has to be willing to pay for it. Now, there are a lot of processes particularly government processes where customers are not necessarily paying. So ask yourself if it’s not a process for customers who are actually forking over money, do they care? Would they care that this is being done or do they even know we’re doing it?

So ask yourself if it’s not a process for customers who are actually forking over money, do they care? Would they care that this is being done or do they even know we’re doing it?

Does it transform the item toward completion? Does something changed?

And lastly, is it done like the first time? Is this the first time we’re doing this and it’s done right or is this an inspection and a rework step?

Now, if it’s not value-adding then it’s non-value-added or it’s non-value-added but required. Now, there’s less of the non-value-added but required than there are a non-value add. And those are things that the business needs, maybe you’re tracking so the business can take care of tracking volume information, things like that that helps them plan ahead or it could be data entry, something that is not necessarily adding value in the strict criteria but it’s required to keep the business afloat or to keep the process moving. So those are your three options. Just a little review.

Fastest Method

And then this is another great method, also coming from Karen and Mike. First go through identify all the value-add steps. Usually, not that many. This is the fastest or the quickest part of this task. And then give them a green sticky dot. Do something to give them again, visual management. I use green. That’s value-add. You could put V on it if you want. People have different methods.

Now, second thing, go through and pick off the non-value add but required. Customers don’t care for GPC codes on their products but we need that to run this process. It’s non-value add but required. So, I’m going to put a red dot on those because it’s non-value-add technically but it’s required.

Now, you stop right there. Everything else is non-value add. So it’s quicker, it’s easier, and if you see steps with nothing on them, it’s a very powerful visual when most of the map has no dots. It’s mostly non-value add.

It doesn’t mean you can get rid of it all. It just means you can start to look at what are my options? Can I get rid of some of this? What will I be able to do?

So, value-add, adding to the swimlane, really powerful, great place to figure out where do we want to start streamlining this process? You can also use another downloadable template on our site. Is this value-added flow analysis where you can track what your decisions were on these steps, the value-added time, the non-value-added time. You can pull out wait time and get that percentage of value-add steps. So that’s also there for you guys.

Digital Swimlane Maps

Now, you’ve done all that or you’re working with a team that is not co-located. So you need to put this map in a digital form. And you’ve got options. This also maybe an option for you once you finished fixing the process. Now you want to put the new process in digital form because you’re going to use it as a training technique for new hires.

So, Visio. Very classic, been around the longest, a very well-robust. It only works on PCs which we don’t have. So I can’t use. It also – you have to go through a few steps to get Visio. I think you have to have a Microsoft account. You have to have a Microsoft email. And it’s the priciest. That’s about $169 per year. These are all subscription-based so that one cost a bit per month.

And then the next option you have is Lucidchart which I found out because they let me see Visio. So now, I have the PC. People would send me a Visio chart. Well, I can view it with Lucidchart.

Lucidchart, there is a free version. If you want to get the next step up, you’ve got roughly $59 a year. Again, that’s on a subscription. There’s a free version too. And you can get tutorials. That little orange Post-It note there is telling you, click on whatever and it will do walk-throughs, which is really nice. I enjoyed that. It was a nice discovery and we reviewed that on our podcast a little – last year.

OK. On the bottom, you have an Excel template that we’ve got for you on our site. It’s Excel. It’s free. Well, it’s Excel. You probably already have it, not that it’s free. It’s no frills but it does the trick. You got all the themes, forms, boxes, decision, and the dynamic arrows. It’s just not quite as elegant as the others but like I said, it does the trick.

Question for You

So, that brings us to a question that we have for you which is, do you have a swimlane technique that you would like to share? So this is where we ask you to put your tips and techniques right in the question box and we’re going to read those. And while you’re typing those up, I’m just going to come back to what I would consider kind of good, solid, 10 mapping tips.

10 Process Mapping Tips

1. Don’t map for mapping’s sake. Pick the area of the process for a good reason and spend your effort wisely because you cannot map everything.

2. Remember, start with the current state, not what you’d like it to be or what you think it is but it is.

3. Walk the process. We got webinars on process walks. If you haven’t downloaded them, do it. Really easy.

4. Map what really happens. Don’t write down an SOP. Write out all the cheat sheet exactly what’s going on there.

5. Keep it simple. You can use sticky notes on a wall. Post-It’s on a big roll of butcher paper.

6. Include process data. Value stream maps are designed for that but swimlanes can use cycle time data. Very useful to have that also be visible.

7. Variation. Make sure people can see or indicate what’s causing processes to vary in terms of customer experience. What’s the lowest? What’s the highest? Often good to put ranges.

8. Indicate root causes. Again, put those pink starbursts, where things are going wrong.

9. Apply visual management. Remember those sticky dots for value-add? You can use red. You can use green.

10. Include people. Getting involved in these sparks energy. It’s excitement. It’s engaging. And that’s what you want. You want people to be engaged. You want them to care. You want them to pay attention to this effort to make this process easier for them. Really a huge opportunity not to be missed. You never map all by yourself. Do it with other people.

OK. So let’s come back to those questions, Tracy. What do you see?

Tracy O’Rourke: OK. So, a couple of comments about some of the tips and techniques, some of our attendees have. Heather wrote, “E-Draw is a great tool.” So maybe that’s something we should check out, Elisabeth.

Elisabeth Swan: Thank you. E-Draw.

Tracy O’Rourke: As a possible process mapping technique or tool. Heather also wrote, “Strategy-wise, I have used one facilitator and one electronic map maker.” So the team really likes to have the electronic map right away. So that’s really cool because it reduces that lead time for transferring the map into electronic function.

We’ve done that before too with – we’ve got someone that’s internal that can actually do that kind of work. So that’s a great tip. That can work well. Have you used that before?

Elisabeth Swan: I have actually. I’ve forgotten that. But she is great. We actually did that in Alberta. We had people tracking right as we were building. So that’s great. I will say we went into some trouble with the validation. But they still – they had to go back and change both the physical map on the wall and then also change the digital ones. But yes, that’s absolutely a great option. Thank you, Heather.

Tracy O’Rourke: Cool. Richard also wrote, “I use the 80-20 Rule. Only map what happens 80% of the time. Don’t worry about the 20%.” That’s a great tip because otherwise you’re down in the weeds with something that doesn’t happen very often.

Elisabeth Swan: Absolutely. 80-20. What’s normal? What happens most of the time? That’s huge. Absolutely.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes. I have another one that says – Lynn says she has used a vertical swimlanes to differentiate systems, which is interesting. Capture the systems. Add steps in the process that people have to do. So that’s also sort of integrating a value stream map technique on to a swimlane. Like it.

Elisabeth Swan: Nice. Thank you, Lynn.

Tracy O’Rourke: Jim says, “We use icons to show a control could be administrated or engineered at a step since we have compliance requirements.” Good.

Elisabeth Swan: Great. We probably have time for one more.

Tracy O’Rourke: OK. Daniel says, “I use swimlanes with the event-driven technique. No decision signs.”

Elisabeth Swan: Event-driven technique. We have to look into that more.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes.

Elisabeth Swan: You know that one?

Tracy O’Rourke: So my guess is no decision is made. It’s really like a calendar event of some kind drives the process or it starts the process. But I’d love to hear more about that, Daniel, if that’s what you meant. Just maybe expound on that a little bit. Cool.

Elisabeth Swan: Well, thank you. Those are great. Thank you, Tracy, for reading those out and thank you all for contributing. We all – Tracy and I call ourselves life-long learners and we learn from you guys too. So we appreciate your interaction.

Tracy O’Rourke: Absolutely.

Resources for Deeper Learning

Elisabeth Swan: As promised, this is the book that goes into a deep dive on Metrics-Based Process Mapping specifically applied the swimlanes. These are two very fabulous consultants Tracy and I have known for a long time. They’ve produced a lot of great books, really useful, and as I mentioned, Karen has just out now. So if you’re interested in deeper learning, there’s one for you.

You’ve also got two single modules on both process walk training and facilitation of process walks. Those are both on the site. A great article by a colleague, one of our Master Black Belts called Eureka. It’s a great name. Six Process Maps You Should Know and How to Choose the Right One. We talked about once you do the process walk, you want to decide what map should I use. This is a great article to help you with that.

And then the 10 tips I gave you. Actually, those are a little bit more spelled out on our site in an article if you’d like to look at those some more. So those are some resources for you.

Today We Covered

So today, we covered what is a swimlane map, why should you use one, what are some ways to enhance it, what should you watch out for, what are some tips and tricks.


And we are going to open it up for questioning. And once again, we know it will take you a moment to type in some questions so we’re going to just do a rundown of some other things to be aware of while you’re typing your questions.

Getting Started

So another one is if you want to get involved more with mapping, you’ve got a White Belt, Yellow Belt. I’d say Green Belt, Black Belt, and Lean are going to focus most, another level up on mapping.

Tracy, would you like to describe our new eBook?

Tracy O’Rourke: We are very excited about our new book. It is an eBook. Someone actually asked, “Is this an eBook?” Yes, it is. It’s now available on our website and it’s going to be coming on our Kindle version on Amazon sometime this week. We are so proud of this book because we think it is a toolkit book. It’s about tools. And sometimes people say, “Don’t we have enough tool books?” Well, this is the best one you’ll ever going to see.

Elisabeth Swan: Not that you’re biased.

Tracy O’Rourke: Not that I’m biased. But it’s fun. It brings you through a Lean Six Sigma journey. It’s supposed to help guide anybody that’s really doing a belt program, Green Belt or Yellow Belt or really just problem solving. And it gives you some really key tools. We really have said it’s not about using every tool. It’s about here’s a book that shares really a lot of the tools most people use. So, we really wanted to – we don’t want to hit everybody over the head with lots different tools.

So we’re really excited. It is an eBook. And go out and get it. And guess what? If you are a Green Belt, if you have our Green Belt Training, if you are thinking about getting your Green Belt, you get this book for free. So go sign up and buy Green Belt.

Elisabeth Swan: Same with Black Belts. Both of you. Get it for free.

Tracy O’Rourke: Get it for free.

Upcoming Webinar: June 19, 11am PDT

Elisabeth Swan: OK. And how about your next webinar, Tracy?

Tracy O’Rourke: So, my next webinar is really around 5 ways to ensure Yellow Belts apply their skills after certification. So I think the biggest challenge is sometimes we train people very broadly, lots of different people on a Yellow Belt and thousands of people and we make it an introduction to Lean Six Sigma but we really don’t have them apply the tools or the skills. And they’re going to lose it.

So there are very simple things you can do to have Yellow Belts apply the skills and be successful. And that’s what we really want. That’s where the learning really happens is you go through the training and you get the concepts and there’s a window of time for you to apply it to really secure that learning. And that’s really what we’re going to be talking about for Yellow Belts on our next webinar.

Elisabeth Swan: Sounds good, Tracy. I will be there.

Tracy O’Rourke: Cool.

Just-In-Time Café Podcast

Elisabeth Swan: How about your last podcast where you interviewed Jim Benson?

Tracy O’Rourke: OK. Jim Benson is the author of Personal Kanban, which is a great book. And this book is crazy popular. He is traveling all over the country training people on personal kanban. And I asked him, why has this been so transformational? And that is really actually how we came up with this title. He basically says, “It helps balance your crap to fun ration at work.” OK? So I mean doesn’t want more fun and less crap at work? So it was really funny. He is a great guy, a great interview. If you don’t have a Personal Kanban, I think it’s a great book to read.

And for the organizations that have made this a book to read in their organization, it seems to take hold very quickly. So listen to the podcast. You’re going to hear about what Personal Kanban is and you get a taste of what Jim Benson is like.

Elisabeth Swan: We use the personal kanbans and we’ve got a full review of his book on the site if you want to get a sense – a better sense of what it’s about. But they’re simple but powerful and great. Thank you.

Success Story Webinar

All right. Next, we’ve got a Success Story Webinar. This comes from a nonprofit, the Cape Cod Child Development Organization here on Cape Cod. And Leslie worked in a classroom trying to understand what was causing classroom incidents. This is where they get written up, somebody is either acted out or gotten hurt or somebody threw something. And this takes away from everyone’s learning so she went in there to understand and she did it as her Green Belt project. And she mapped out the classroom which is fascinating to find out why was this happening. It’s a great success story and it’s really interesting especially if you do early education. I’d highly recommend this one.

Wonder Women of Quality

And we’ve got the Wonder Women of Quality Series. It has been going on now here in January, February, March, April, May, so this is our fifth Wonder Women, Kirsty Dykes. She comes from Colorado State Government. And she is a great one. She has a great sense of humor. She comes from England. And she uses everything she can to teach except PowerPoint. So if you want to hear about using Legos or pipe cleaners, whatever it takes, Kirsty has got some great examples. And that’s another great inspiring person in our series of the Wonder Women of Quality.


This takes us back to questions, Tracy. What have you got?

Tracy O’Rourke: All right, Elisabeth. The first question is, “How often do you validate the data? I have found when asking for data, the information is based on perception which is often influenced by recent events or pain level but not actual data.”

Elisabeth Swan: Then it becomes anecdotal and then it doesn’t necessarily mirror reality. And that will drive solutions that don’t solve problems or things that alter a process in ways that could make it even worse. So when dealing with data, get real data. So I’d say when you’re questioning people, you want to ask where is that from. You can – I mean you can get to the level of like, let’s just time this or let’s spend a week. Everyone take a week and we’re going to capture actual data.

So when dealing with data, get real data.

But I’m with you. Then it becomes anecdotal, which is not helpful.

Tracy O’Rourke: OK. Thank you. Next question. How do you include root causes on a swimlane map? If the process is to map out as is, I’m confused.

Elisabeth Swan: Good question. So we’re just saying, once you map it out, you’re going to put starbursts on it to say, “There’s a problem here.” So right here, we’ve got any kind of discovery, you’re going to put that on a separate Post-It note, visual management, you can go see as people try to understand what’s happening here.

So we’re just saying call it out, not that that’s part of the mapping. It might be the second layer. Going back to try to understand what’s happening there.

Tracy O’Rourke: Right. Like a next step, like a visiting. OK. Cool. What other data should be included in the map other than process time?

Elisabeth Swan: Well, you’ve got some options, right? So you can put process time on the map. You could also put lead time per step. You can put percent complete and accurate on each step and understand what’s happening in terms of quality levels at each step. Those are the big ones.

As I said, the number of handoffs on a swimlane map is great. You can put that. Once you’ve done the as is mapping, you can count those right away and just put right on like the first page of the map number of handoffs. And that can be a baseline that you can work from and say, “All right. How do we reduce that?”

So, it’s really process-dependent and project-dependent. What are you trying to do? And what are you trying to achieve? That’s going to drive the metrics that are most useful for you.

Tracy O’Rourke: OK. Wonderful. Thank you. Another person asked, “Would you include a fishbone diagram while you’re doing the swimlane map to capture root causes?” Lots of questions about including root causes.

Elisabeth Swan: OK. So I would say you’re mapping to – just like the whole issue I described where someone comes up with solution while you’re mapping. You want to capture that idea but keep mapping. So get the mapping done with Post-It note where you want to come back and start brainstorming.

And I love the idea of coming back and doing the root cause analysis once you’ve done your mapping. So now, let’s try to get to the bottom of this. Why is this rework happening? It’s going to be upstream. Let’s start brainstorming all the places upstream that could be reading to incomplete or inaccurate information coming to this point in the process. So I love that. I love the combination with the fishbone.

Tracy O’Rourke: Good. OK. Another question from Alyssa, “Do you recommend including every step or can you leave out some of the things that are obvious? For example, send options to customer. Should the next step be, receive options or can we just skip it and go to select the preferred option?”

Elisabeth Swan: Two things. One, there is a time happening. So you’re saying, should it go from send it to customers and then instead of saying customers receive it, just go directly to customer select an option.

Unless the receipt takes time, so receipt of, someone was just describing a process going on to a website and the number of steps they had to go through just to read – what was it? It was like a message about privacy or a change to their legal status. And they made customers go through this very cumbersome series of steps to get that information whereas why didn’t they just put that in the email that was sent out to customers? It was unclear.

So the receipt actually took a number of steps on a customer side. So that would be something you’d want to map out because that’s a customer experience and that’s often a pain point like what’s involved with the customer selecting their options? Is it the option section that takes time or is involved? Or is it the receipt that is also cumbersome? And is there a time happening? Is there a time lapse there?

So I don’t want to skip something where I’m going to say, “Well, the receipt itself takes x days or a few hours or minutes.” So once again, it’s dependent upon the process. But it’s a good question like if it’s – if you’re tracking that particular area of steps like just at the customer end, do you want to – you’re basically saying, “Put it in an inbox. Is that a big deal? Do you want to go to that level?”

And I’ve done that with people where I say, “Let’s not talk about when it goes to the inbox. When it goes into my outbox. Let’s just say what happens once it’s in?” So I would say that’s not uncommon.

Tracy O’Rourke: Good. Very helpful, Elisabeth. I think in summary you’re saying, if there’s pain there, add it. And if you feel like you could skip because it’s not problematic, fine. There are lots of comments about people that have already gotten our book and have loved it and have used it. And Mark Myers says, “Elisabeth, thank you. Great job. You’re awesome.”

Elisabeth Swan: I want to acknowledge somebody. You guys should all thank Lynn of Arizona for suggesting this webinar because we listen to you guys. So let us know what webinars, when you get your survey at the end of this, let us know.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes. And I’ll just say thanks for joining us on today’s webinar. We hope you found this very helpful. Please share your feedback. And as Elisabeth said, tell us some ideas about other Lean Six Sigma topics that you want to hear about.

This concludes today’s broadcast. Thank you everyone. And on behalf of Elisabeth and the whole team here at, we’re happy you joined us. Goodbye.

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Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Managing Partner at For over 25 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Starwood Hotels & Resorts build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.

Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Managing Partner at She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at UC San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.