Kanban swimlanes are an integral part of any Kanban board. That is if you want to make the most of it. Because even though a Kanban board with multiple columns can still help you organize your work and streamline your work, adding swimlanes will boost your process management even further.

Using a Kanban tool with swimlanes can be the key component that will enable you to visualize the whole process on a single board and distinguish the different parts that actually run simultaneously. And that’s just what Kanban should do – help you visualize your process faithfully so you can continually improve your work. Let’s learn more about Kanban swimlanes and what they can do for you.

What are Kanban Swimlanes?

When one team uses a Kanban board, you can have a good overview of the whole process. And easily see how cards traverse the board. But large projects may include different teams. And usually, different teams have no overlap in their work and deal with different types of tasks. But if they use one board, every task will be there. Even tasks that you don’t need to see. Or know anything about. And that’s when things get messy. And spotting your task and identifying the next step can become difficult.

In a situation like that Kanban, swimlanes can give you the extra organizational boost as they enable you to further group and categorize tasks on your board. The Kanban swimlanes are basically visual elements that flows horizontally on your board to represent parts of the process that run in parallel. The purpose of the Kanban swimlanes is to offer distinction and group tasks of different nature that flow through the stages of your process. How you apply them depends on your particular process flow.

The important thing to remember when creating swimlanes is that the task from one lane should not be dependent on tasks in other swimlanes. And tasks should not move from one lane to another. The tasks can only move from left to right, though the main process stages – the columns.

Kanban Swimlanes and WIP Limits

Kanban swimlanes are important elements for visualizing and streamlining your process flow. But on top process visualization, Kanban uses another key property that helps teams optimize their flow – WIP limits. And as we already know, WIP limits are applied to every stage (or column) in the process.

And just as you apply WIP limits for each column on the board, you should also adapt the WIP limits to each swimlane as well. When you do, make sure the separate swimlane WIP limits do not surpass the total WIP limit of the column.


How to Use Kanban Swimlanes?

Swimlanes are very versatile. Their types can be as varied as your projects. But the most common swimlanes we can find on a Kanban board include:

  • Individuals/teams/departments,
  • company-level,
  • recurring tasks,
  • Classes of Service,
  • blocked tasks.

Let’s see what each one is used for.

Individuals/Teams Lane

Depending on the complexity of your work, and the size of your team, you can visualize the work of different groups/teams in dedicated Kanban swimlanes. This way, teams can deal with their own work in a dedicated flow. Smaller teams can even choose to add swimlanes for individuals. And this works great because everyone will still be able to see the overall progress of the project.

Recurring Tasks Lane

It is very common for teams to have numerous tasks on a regular basis. But oftentimes, teams that try to avoid (or at least delay) repetitive work, for example, some maintenance tasks, and prefer to complete the new ones instead. Creating the recurring tasks lane and setting a proper WIP limit can help you deal with this and ensure all work is done on time.

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Classes of Service

Using Classes of Service is one of the most commonly used types of swimlanes. Classes of Service, as we already know, provide teams with a resolution to better prioritize tasks in an effective way. Different types of tasks don’t have the same “urgency” attached to them. Thus, the 4 main Classes of Service – Expedite, Fixed delivery date, Standard, and Intangible – for priority management can present different Kanban swimlanes on your board.

Blocked Tasks

Dealing with bottlenecks is nothing new. As well as having tasks that are blocked and dwell in certain columns for a long time and add to your cycle and lead times. Having the extra lane where you can place these tasks can help prevent task overload, and make the process more manageable.

Do You Need to Use Swimlanes?

Supposing that, by now, you have a good understanding of what Kanban swimlanes are and how you can use them, I believe you realize that Kanban swimlanes are not mandatory. But they are a great solution for improving your task organization and prioritization. And when you create a better visual representation of your workflow, you can more easily spot opportunities for improvement.

How you choose to implement swimlanes on your boars is entirely up to you. But keep in mind that Kanban’s beauty lies in its simplicity. Our advice is to add them when they are truly necessary. For example, our team in Kanban Zone uses individual and team swimlanes. How would you use them in your projects?

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About the Author: Ivana Sarandeska

Ivana Sarandeska is a digital marketer, creative writer and master procrastinator. An Agile enthusiast and a firm believer that thorough planning is key to good execution and even better improvisation. She has a soft spot for technology, so most of her full-time jobs were in IT companies where she was introduced to Agile and Scrum. After she got her Scrum Basics certification she started actively using these methodologies and their main principles. Learning how to organize her time and tasks better has motivated her to dive deeper into these methodologies. Now, she is an avid advocate of Agile and Scrum and happily shares her knowledge and experience to fellow procrastinators.

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