Whether you have just started using Kanban or have been doing it for a while, you may still be surprised by how many Kanban board variations there are out there. Teams are using various techniques to customize their task boards, the most popular of which are the Kanban swimlanes. The simple addition lets companies create boards that are just right and here is how you can do it too.
If you are not familiar with the Kanban swimlane concept, do not worry this one is easy. Kanban swimlanes are simply what we call rows on a Kanban board used to separate and groups tasks according to certain criteria.
This idea was first used as a way for Kanban teams to go around the WIP rule if there was a very urgent task they had to complete fast. To help identify such tasks, teams added an expedite swimlane to the top of their Kanban board. Then, if an unplanned urgent task appeared it was added to the expedite lane and the team could start working on it immediately disregarding the WIP limit. This allowed Kanban teams to have faster reaction time to the urgent items and separate them better from other tasks in the backlog.
As more and more teams started using Kanban, the use of swimlanes started to grow and differentiate. Depending on their processes and needs, teams started separating tasks by urgency, teams, time and other criteria. Thus creating Kanban boards that were better suited to their processes and needs. Today, the most popular use of Kanban swimlanes are as follows:
– Task type or urgency
– Products, projects or clients.
– Teams or company levels.
– Iterations and project phases.
Let’s see each one in action.
One of the most popular ways to use Kanban swimlanes is to help separate tasks by their type. In most teams there are several types of tasks to be completed and it really helps to see the Kanban board divided by them. In the example below you can see a Kanban board used by an accounting department, were tasks are divided into rows based on their type – suppliers, clients and employees. Having defined rows for each type of accounting tasks, make the task board easier to navigate and prioritize the work that the team is doing. It also gives immediate insight on what what type of work the team is mostly concentrating at the moment.
Depending on your processes, such division could mean anything from 2 to 20 swimlanes. However, to keep the task board easily readable, you should try to stick to around 10 rows (at most).
Teams working with clients, often like to take a slightly different approach – dividing the task board in rows by service plan or urgency. This comes closer to the expedite swimlane concept, just expands it with additional options. Instead of having a single expedite swimlane, task board is divided into several urgency levels or service plans. As you can see in the example below, a team working the helpdesk may find it most useful when the task board is divided into urgent, high priority, moderate priority and low priority tasks. Allowing them to immediately identify the most important issues and solve them before moving onto the other requests.
While if there is a certain response time depending on the service plan customer is using, the task board could be divided into rows based on those time. For example – respond in 24 hours, respond in 48 hours and respond in 5 business days.
Another common path many teams take is using Kanban swimlanes to separate products, projects or clients. When working towards various goals it becomes quite important to see work items separated from one another in this way. For example, a furniture manufacturer could set up their task board with separate swimlanes for every different product line they make. Allowing to understand the waiting periods for the whole operation as well as for each specific product line. As you can see in the board below, such separation is also great for storing information on each product line. You will be able to find all the current and past designs of a specific line in one place.
Similarly, you can use Kanban swimlanes to separate different projects. And for the more client – oriented services, each swimlane can represent a certain client. Such division becomes very useful when the team wants to track and understand the effort required by each of their clients and allocate resources accordingly. In the Kanban board below, you can see the team has used Kanban swimlanes to represent clients and added product tags to tasks to also track what type of product they are making for the client. Thus creating a double tracking system.
If you have several teams or departments working from a single task board, things might get quite confusing. To eliminate the mess, you can use Kanban swimlanes to separate their tasks and create more clarity in each teams operations. By dividing the board by teams you can include teams from several locations and ease their collaboration making it easy to see what each team is doing. This also lets track and compare each teams progress more easily.
On the other hand, if your company is more department that team based, you may prefer to see different departments represented by swimlanes. For example, an engineering company could have design, manufacturing and sales tasks represented in one board to create easier collaboration and progress tracking. By seeing the design progress, manufacturing could plan out their tasks and by seeing what is produced, sales could relay live information to clients.
Lastly, for some teams it is also very important to be able to track iterations or phases on their task board. In Teamhood you can set start and end dates for each row to make sure the team keeps to the set deadlines and plans for only a certain period of time. You can also rename rows any way you like, creating a clear plan for your team to follow. Setting up Kanban swimlanes with start and due dates will also activate an additional feature in Teamhood Timeline, allowing you to plan tasks more easily.
When visualizing your process in a Kanban board it is important to use all the tools available to get the best results. Kanban swimlanes are a great way to add a new layer of structure and clarity to your operations, making the process that much more enjoyable. As it is clear from the examples above, swimlanes can be used for a variety of things, surely you can think of a couple more to add to the list.
To generalize, Kanban swimlanes are mostly used to separate: task type or urgency, products, projects or clients, teams or company levels, iterations and project phases.