How to spruce up and speed up your process mapping

Lots of organizations create process maps or flow charts to document recurring projects, define success and failure, and provide how-to guides for new employees. In these maps, each step in a process is written down, and arrows are drawn from one step to the next to indicate the order in which they should be completed.

An example from Wikipedia:

By Scottsm1991 — Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17262722

It’s pretty informative, as breakfast process maps go. I definitely agree with cooking the bacon before the eggs, because then you can cook the eggs in the leftover bacon grease. But I think I would toast the bread before cooking the eggs (eating cold eggs after your toast took too long…that totally sucks), and I would probably skip the potatoes — no need to overload on carbs so early in the morning.

Anyway, one popular type of process map is a swim lane diagram. In this type of diagram, each process step is placed in a lane indicating which person or team completes that step. An example, also from Wikipedia:

By Paul Kerr — http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Approvals.jpg, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21550293

A traditional swim lane diagram, like this one, probably accomplishes the original goals fairly well: it documents a recurring project, defines success and failure, and provides a rudimentary how-to guide for new employees.

But a diagram like the one above has a few downsides, in my opinion.

  • It conserves space (good) by sacrificing information (bad). “Rep Logs PO, Enters Order.” Who’s the rep? Where does the logging happen? What kind of information does the purchase order require? Put a two-hour meeting on my calendar, and invite the whole department, so that I can get all my follow-up questions answered. After that, I’ll shove the meeting minutes into a 50-page handbook to make this knowledge transfer more efficient.
  • It probably took excessive time and/or money to create. It’s very possible to make swim lane diagrams in Microsoft Word or Google Docs, if you have spare hours or days that you can spend fiddling with shapes, arrows, tables, fonts, colors, etc. Or, shell out $20 per month so that you and two (2) friends can enjoy a library of “Professional shapes and features” (terms and conditions may apply).
  • It looks kinda gross. If I were a new employee at this organization, the last thing I would want to do on my first day of work is thumbtack that dismal, gray diagram onto the dismal, gray walls of my cubicle, reminding myself that both my physical movement and my digital movement will be restricted for the next 25 years of my life, as I claw my way toward the corner office. Two birds, one stone!

There’s gotta be a better way. In fact, I think I found one.


I discovered that, by combining Google Sheets and Kumu, it’s possible to create swim lane diagrams that conserve space without sacrificing information. These diagrams can be built, revised, and shared quickly by teams of people, and only cost money if you want to keep them private (you’ll pay $9/month for as many diagrams as you can pack into one Kumu project).

Most importantly, they look and feel way better than that cubicle wallpaper I showed you before!

Check it out below (scroll to zoom in and out; click and drag to move around; click on process steps to see more info).

User guide (as a swim lane diagram)

It’s easy for anyone to make maps just like mine, using a Google Sheets template and a Kumu project template that I created.

To get started on your swim lane diagram, head over to the user guide!


PS I’m releasing my templates into the world under Kumu’s Kokua license.

The Kokua License
Copyright © 2017 Alex Vipond

Permission is hereby granted to freely exploit this content in any way
by anyone for any purpose, without warranty of any kind. Attribution is
appreciated, but not required.

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