Simply said, Kanban swimlanes are lines that split horizontally a Kanban board into two or more parts. They are useful for all teams but prove to be extremely handy for larger teams that have to visualize not only their work stages but also the different types of tasks that flow through the work process. As a result, the Kanban board stays nicely organized, uncluttered with homogenous work and thus brings more clarity to the workflow.
What Can You Use Kanban Swimlanes for?
A simple example of a Kanban swimlane would be the separation of the different types of content that your marketing team is producing – text and video. In most cases, those two activities are not sequential, so you can visualize them as separate on a Kanban board and thus achieve better flow.
When talking about flow, we should mention the topic of limiting work-in-progress (WIP) too. As you are probably familiar, the different stages of your workflow should have limits so your team members focus on finishing rather than constantly starting new work.
The same thing applies to the Kanban swimlanes. If we take the marketing example from above, you should set a separate WIP limit for the text and video content lanes that is in conformity with the overall limit of the “In Progress” work stage on the Kanban board.
Generally speaking, Kanban swimlanes are used to separate work of different nature and how you are going to apply them depends on the specificity of your workflow. However, there are some major types of lanes that you should be familiar with, so keep reading below.
Different Types of Kanban Swimlanes
The most common types of swimlanes that can exist on a Kanban board are the following:
– Repetitive tasks
– Classes of Service (Expedite, Fixed Delivery Date, Standard, Intangible)
– Company-level lanes
– Discarded Options
Let’s briefly go over each one of them.
To visualize the work of different teams or individuals, you can create dedicated Kanban swimlanes for them. For example, you can separate the design team in your organization that is working on some creative stuff on your company’s website, and the development team, that is dealing with the technical part. This way, each team will have their own dedicated flow for their unique tasks while still retaining the ability to easily see what their colleagues are working on.
Furthermore, you can use Kanban swimlanes to separate different clients so you can better visualize the work that you are preparing for each one of them. This scenario is not very common but it can be effective for some bigger, long-term clients of yours whom you want to make sure you provide with exceptional service all the time.
For example, let’s say that you are a digital agency and you have just signed two big companies to manage their marketing campaigns. As they are big clients with larger budgets that you want to keep for the long-run, you might decide to pay a bit of extra attention to them. In this case, you can separate their respective flow of tasks as seen from the image below.
Sometimes, teams have a number of tasks that need to be done on a regular basis. For example, an IT operations team within a company might have a number of maintenance tasks that require the regular backup of important business files within a network system.
Those are work items that provide the organization with higher security, and due to their repetitive nature, it’s a good practice to use Kanban swimlanes to visualize and separate them from the rest. This way, you will be able to further de-clutter your Kanban board, especially if you have a larger volume of both one-time and recurring tasks.
Classes of Service
Visualizing different classes of service is one of the most widely used options for Kanban swimlanes. The purpose of these lanes is to provide teams with a solution to better prioritize work in an effective way to reduce risk.
As you can imagine, different types of work items will not have the same type of “urgency” attached to them. That’s why in Kanban, there are 4 classes of service for priority management which you can separate and visualize with the help of Kanban swimlanes. We are listing them below.
- Fixed Delivery Date
This class of service is reserved for work items that have the highest priority, which means that they require your team’s full devotion. You can create a separate swimlane on your Kanban board for that class of service and process items through it that are critical, have high risk and might be blocking your other tasks from moving forward.