What are Kanban Swimlanes?
  • Kanban is a popular project management methodology that emphasizes continuous delivery and improvement. One of the key components of Kanban is visualizing workflow, and swimlanes are a powerful tool for achieving this goal. In this article, we'll explain what swimlanes are, why they're important, and how to use them effectively in your Kanban processes.


What are Kanban Swimlanes?

Kanban is a project management methodology that originated in the manufacturing industry but has since been adopted by many other fields, including software development, marketing, and healthcare. Kanban emphasizes continuous delivery and improvement, with a focus on visualizing workflow and limiting work in progress. By using visual cues such as cards and boards, Kanban teams can easily see the status of each task and identify bottlenecks or areas for improvement.

Swimlanes are a key component of Kanban boards, allowing teams to organize their workflow into lanes representing different categories or work stages. Swimlanes can be horizontal, vertical, or multi-dimensional, providing a powerful way to visualize workflow and identify areas for improvement.


Three Types of Kanban Swimlanes

While there are many ways to use swimlanes in Kanban, there are three main types of swimlanes: horizontal, vertical, and multi-dimensional. Each type has its own unique benefits and use cases, and understanding these differences can help teams choose the best approach for their specific needs. Let's take a closer look at each type of swimlane and how they can be used in Kanban.

  • Horizontal Kanban Swimlanes

Horizontal swimlanes are the most common type of swimlane in Kanban. They divide the board into lanes representing different teams, departments, or work types. For example, a software development team might use horizontal swimlanes to separate tasks related to front-end development, back-end development, and testing. This makes it easy to see which tasks are currently in progress and which team members are responsible for them.

  • Vertical Kanban Swimlanes

Vertical swimlanes divide the board into lanes that represent different stages of the workflow, such as "To Do," "In Progress," and "Done." This provides a clear view of the status of each task and helps team members prioritize their work.

  • Multi-Dimensional Kanban Swimlanes

Multi-dimensional swimlanes are a more advanced type of swimlane that allows teams to track tasks across multiple dimensions, such as priority, urgency, or complexity. This provides a more nuanced view of the workflow and helps teams prioritize their work more effectively.

With TopLeft Kanban Boards, you have the flexibility to create swimlanes based on various fields in the PSA software, such as people, company, project manager, account manager, queues, and ticket type; or even create custom-defined fields for specific processes and workflows. 


5 Common Mistakes to Avoid when Using Kanban Swimlanes

While kanban swimlanes are a powerful tool for visualizing workflow and improving team productivity, there are some common mistakes that teams should avoid when using them:

  • Not Defining Swimlanes Clearly

Swimlanes should be clearly defined and easy to understand. If swimlanes are unclear or ambiguous, team members may become confused or misinterpret their roles.

  • Overcomplicating Swimlanes

While multi-dimensional swimlanes can be useful, it's important to keep the board simple. Too many swimlanes can make the board difficult to read and understand.


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  • Using Too Many Swimlanes

Similarly, using too many swimlanes can be counterproductive. Teams should limit the number of swimlanes to a manageable level, and avoid creating swimlanes that are too narrow or specific.

  • Neglecting to Update Swimlanes

Swimlanes should be updated regularly to reflect changes in the workflow. Neglecting to update swimlanes can lead to confusion and miscommunication.

  • Not Using Swimlanes for Continuous Improvement

Finally, teams should use swimlanes as a tool for continuous improvement. Kanban swimlanes can help identify bottlenecks or areas for improvement, and teams should regularly review their swimlanes to look for opportunities to optimize their workflow.


Best Practices for Using Kanban Board Swimlanes

Using kanban swimlanes can be overwhelming especially if you are used to the typical dashboards available in PSA technology like Connectwise and AutoTask. To make sure you’re able to sync kanban into your existing MSP workflows, here are basic best practices to consider for a successful implementation: 

  • Use Swimlanes to Visualize Workflow

Swimlanes provide a visual representation of the workflow and help team members quickly identify the status of each task. Make sure to use swimlanes consistently and make them easily understandable for the entire team.

  • Define Swimlanes based on Your Team's Needs

Swimlanes should be customized based on the specific needs of your team. Define swimlanes that align with your team's processes, workflows, and goals.

  • Use Swimlanes to Identify Bottlenecks

Swimlanes can be used to identify bottlenecks in the workflow. If a swimlane has too many tasks or is consistently over capacity, it may be a sign of a bottleneck that needs to be addressed.

  • Limit the Number of Swimlanes

While swimlanes are a powerful tool, too many swimlanes can lead to confusion and over-complication. Limit the number of your kanban swimlanes to a manageable level, and avoid creating swimlanes that are too narrow or specific.

  • Update Kanban Swimlanes Regularly

Swimlanes should be updated regularly to reflect changes in the workflow. This ensures that team members have an accurate view of the workflow and can quickly identify any changes or updates.


To make kanban adoption even easier, you can also invest in software like TopLeft, which is designed to seamlessly and efficiently integrate with your favorite PSA tools like ConnectWise or AutoTask. With TopLeft for Connectwise or TopLeft for Autotask, there’s no need for you to completely rehaul your processes because it just shows you the data you already have in a way that is easy to visualize and analyze. We can also make the transition even more seamless with on-demand weekly online training where experts can guide you as you configure your workflow and project management with TopLeft. 

Book a demo now to get first-hand visibility on how TopLeft can take your PSA tools to the next level.


Want to know more about how other project managers and service managers are taking advantage of Topleft's swim lanes? Watch our Panel Discussion 2 on Teamwork Transformer below.

Panel Discussion 2: Teamwork Transformer