Efficient Plant March 2020 - 6

column | implementations

Swim Lanes
Improve
Reliability

I

T'S IMPORTANT TO clarify what
best practice looks like, especially in
complex processes. That includes succinct and clear roles and responsibilities
that can be easily followed. This is key to
enabling workable processes. Swim-lane
flowcharts have been around longer than
all of us under many names including
swimlane diagram, functional band, multiDr. Klaus M. Blache
column chart, process flowchart, business
Univ. of Tennessee Reliability
process management chart, visual process
and Maintainability Center
mapping, and process workflow mapping.
(RMC)
The basic chart looks like the parallel lanes
of a swimming pool, leading to its name.
Here are some examples of where/how
swim-lane charts are used effectively:
 visually displaying roles,
responsibilities and functional capabilities
 depicting non-linear
processes, especially material
and information flows
 displaying the sequence,
decisions, and processes
(or process elements) to be
performed
 showing activities that
span multiple departments
 identifying bottlenecks,
repetition, potential risks,
things that should be done,
This classic swim-lane flowchart defines the process of making pizza
and things to remove (that
in a restaurant. Each asset/entity is assigned a lane and a color.
Functions in each lane retain the same color. Arrows guide functions
don't make sense)
across lanes. While this is a finished, horizontal chart, it's best to use
 performing continuous
the vertical format when developing a chart. It's easier to add lanes/
functions in that orientation.
improvement across departments
 training new employees
 showing how decisions/actions affect
other individuals/departments
 leveling the amount of work between
Based in Knoxville, Klaus M. Blache
is director of the Reliability &
groups/departments
Maintainability Center at the
 managing administrative processes such
Univ. of Tennessee, and a research
as payroll, recruiting, hiring, registration,
professor in the College of Engineering.
insurance, and parts purchasing
Contact him at kblache@utk.edu.

6

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EP2003implementations.indd 6

 mapping a help-desk process for IT
 developing reliability and maintenance
corrective actions.
Swim-lane charts can be organized
in a horizontal or vertical format and are
usually chronologically ordered. Sometimes
interchanging the axis gives you a different
look by generating additional viewpoints.
When developing one on paper it's better to
use a vertical format. That way the process
can more easily be extended with additional
process and decision steps.
Anything related to a process can be in
a swim-lane chart. Each lane can represent
any entity, such as a person, job title, project
team, group, department, plant, customer, and/or supplier. The lanes are typically
labeled and arrows show how functions
are moved between the process elements.
Standard shapes are often used to represent
specific activities and decision points. At least
one participant needs to be well versed in the
existing organizational chart and capabilities
so current organizational structure (and
related job scope) is not violated.
While there are many software versions,
I prefer using sticky notes and/or creating
them manually on paper so all can fully
participate. Then, if desired, use software to
make it more readable, retrievable, and for
historical filing.
These charts are not for every situation.
Just like all other reliability and maintainability tools and techniques, you need to understand and decide when it's the right tool
to use. I've seen it applied in parts ordering,
process-information flow, operator-driven
maintenance work order assignment and
completion, root-cause analysis, and problem
solving/continuous improvement. A clear
well-defined process can also help you
change behavior toward the target culture.
Use swim-lane charts to enhance your reliability and maintainability process. EP

MARCH 2020

2/17/20 11:44 AM


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Efficient Plant March 2020

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