Home Kanban What are Kanban Swimlanes and How Do You Use Them?

What are Kanban Swimlanes and How Do You Use Them?

by Srinivas Saripalli

Kanban swimlanes are rows on a Kanban board that are used to categorize work tasks. During the early days of Kanban, most teams employed only one Kanban swimlane to expedite work tasks. Swimlanes are now being used by teams to categorize work items, segregate teams, projects, and products.

There are many different Kanban board applications available on the market. Various teams, ranging from accounting to engineering, have included the Kanban board into their workflows. This demonstrates its adaptability. The Kanban swimlanes are one of the characteristics that make such applications possible. Companies may develop boards that are exactly what they want with this simple innovation. Continue reading to find out how you can do the same thing.

What are Kanban Swimlanes?

Swimlanes on a Kanban board are rows of items on a Kanban board. These rows enable the visual separation of service classes to be used to establish service classes. When using a Kanban board, this boosts the documentation power of the board while also organizing jobs into neat groupings based on classification criteria.

In the beginning, this concept was used as a technique for Kanban teams to get around the WIP rule. It was a ruse to complete a time-sensitive assignment without delaying the completion of present tasks. Teams put an expedite swimlane to the top of their Kanban board to make it easier to recognize such activities. Then, if an unexpectedly urgent assignment arose, it would be routed through the expedite lane. In other words, the team might begin working on it immediately, regardless of the WIP restriction in place. This enabled Kanban teams to react more quickly and manage tasks based on the possible cost of delayed completion of work (CoD). When Kanban rows are categorized based on the cost of delay, these classifications are referred to as Kanban classes of service.

As more teams began to use this Agile framework, the use of swimlanes increased because of increased adoption. Kanban practitioners began categorizing tasks according to their urgency, team composition, time constraints, and other factors. As a result, they were able to design Kanban boards with swimlanes that were more appropriate for their procedures.

The following are the most common applications of Kanban swimlanes today:

  • The nature of the task or its urgency
  • Whether it’s about products, projects, or clients.
  • Groups or organizational levels.
  • Iterations and different phases of a project.
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Let’s have a look at each of them in action.

Swimlanes on a Kanban board are organized according to task type and urgency.

1. The Nature of the Task

One of the most prominent applications of Kanban swimlanes is to assist in the classification of tasks according to their category. In most teams, there are multiple different sorts of jobs to perform, and it is helpful to see the Kanban board separated into sections for each type of activity.

The Kanban board seen in the following image is used by an accounting department, as shown in the example below. Suppliers, clients, and staff are divided into different task groups based on their type. This makes it easier to explore the task board and concentrate on the work that the team is performing. It also provides rapid insight into the type of work that the team is currently working on.

Depending on your operations, you might have anywhere from 2 to 20 swimlanes divided throughout your facility. You should strive to limit the number of swimlanes on the task board to roughly ten to keep it readable (at most).

2. The Importance of the Task

When working with clients, it is common for teams to adopt a distinct strategy. They separate the Kanban board swimlanes according to the service plan or the level of urgency. This concept is like the expedited swimlane concept, but it offers additional customization choices. An expedite Kanban swimlane is replaced by rows that display many urgency levels or service plans, rather than a single swimlane.

Look at the following illustration. A task board divided into categories such as urgent, high priority, moderate priority, and low priority activities is found to be the most useful by a helpdesk team. This enables them to identify the most serious issues and resolve them before moving on to the other requests that have been submitted.

Another alternative would be to categorize jobs based on the service plans that have been developed. As a result, the expected response time for that group of activities is displayed on the Kanban swimlanes in this example. To give you an example, answer within 24 hours, respond within 48 hours, and respond within 5 business days

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Swimlanes on a Kanban board are organized according to items, projects, or clients.

1. Products

Many teams follow a similar path, separating products, projects, and clients utilizing Kanban swimlanes as a means of improving productivity. Seeing job items isolated from one another in this manner becomes extremely useful while working toward multiple goals at the same time.

To give you an example, a furniture firm could organize their task board by creating separate Kanban swimlanes for each of the numerous product lines that they produce. The ability to comprehend the waiting periods for both the overall business and for each single product line. As you can see in the diagram below, this type of separation is also ideal for storing information on each product line separately from the others. You will be able to access all the current and previous designs from a certain line in one convenient location.

2. Clients or projects are both examples of this.

Similarly, you can utilize Kanban swimlanes to divide your projects into multiple phases. In addition, for services that are more focused on the client, each swimlane can represent a specific client. Such division is quite important when the team wishes to measure and understand the effort required by each of their clients to allocate resources appropriately to each of those clients.

On the Kanban board shown below, you can see that the team has utilized Kanban swimlanes to represent their clients and that they have added product tags to jobs to keep track of the sort of product they are producing for each customer. This allows you to construct a double tracking system in this online Kanban board with swimlanes, which is useful.

Swimlanes on a Kanban board are organized by teams or departments.

1. Teams

In the case of multiple teams or departments all working from the same task board, things might become complex. You may utilize Kanban swimlanes to segregate their activities and bring more clarity to the operations of each team, which will help to clear up the muddle.

Team-based division of the board will allow you to incorporate teams from various places and make collaboration easier while yet keeping duties separate and reasonable for each team. As a manager, you will also be able to track and compare the growth of each squad with more ease in the future.

2. Departments

If, on the other hand, your organization is more departmental, you may choose to see different departments represented by separate Kanban swimlanes instead.

On a single Kanban board, an engineering company might have tasks for design, manufacturing, and sales, all of which would be represented by various Kanban swimlanes. As a result, collaboration and tracking progress will be made easier in the future. Manufacturing could organize their duties based on the design progress, while sales could send real-time information to customers based on the product that was being manufactured.

Swimlanes on a Kanban board are organized according to iterations or project phases.

Finally, for some teams, it is critical to be able to track iterations or stages on their task board to keep track of their progress. You may define start and end dates for each swimlane with a few simple tools, ensuring that the team adheres to the established deadlines and plans for only a specified amount of time. Additionally, you can rename the Kanban swimlanes anyway you choose, resulting in a clear approach for your team to follow.

While setting up the first few Kanban swimlanes with start and due dates, an additional function will be activated in the tool’s timeline. You will only be able to add tasks between the dates that have been specified in this view. As a result, you will be able to plan forward with greater confidence.


It is critical to use all the tools available to you while visualizing your process on a Kanban board to achieve the greatest outcomes. Using Kanban swimlanes in your operations is an excellent approach to bring a new layer of organization and clarity to your operations, making the process that much more pleasurable. It should be evident from the examples above that Kanban board swimlanes may be used for a variety of purposes, and I’m sure you can think of a couple more that should be added to the list.

Recommended Reading: Speed Up Value Delivery with Optimised Flow Metrics

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