When to Use Cross-functional Process Maps (or Swim Lanes)

Have you ever wondered when to use a cross-functional process map? Or, wondered what one is?

These maps consist of cross-functional bands, or rows/columns, used to show the functions or departments involved in a business process. The cross-functional bands can represent as many functions as required. Cross-functional process maps can have two types of bands: the more common horizontal band (or row) or the vertical band (or column). When using this style, include a new functional band for each department or function involved in the process, label each band with the function’s name, and place activities in the appropriate bands depending on the function or area responsible for the activity.

You may hear this type of process map called a swim lane because of the similarity with Olympic-style swimming pools that consist of eight lanes each 8.2 feet wide. Using a cross-functional process map makes it easy to see when responsibility for a step in a process moves from one function to another, something known as a handoff. Because handoffs often contribute to points in a business process where issues occur, you can use this technique to minimize such situations.

The decision of which type of process map to draw (standard or cross functional) depends on the goals of the work and the individuals involved. If the work involves a number of different departments, use the cross-functional process map; if the work includes only one department, then the standard process map will suffice. Those unfamiliar with reading a process map can easily get confused by the cross-functional bands.

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About powerofbpi

I'm the author of The Power of Business Process Improvement, published by the American Management Association, and an accompanying workbook. I enjoy writing and BPI work! I'm a New England sports fan and love all the teams.
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