You can group your process activities on the canvas by adding swimlanes or colourful text boxes.  Both allow you to highlight specific groupings, process areas or parallel flows within the same process.

Article outline

  1. Principles behind using formal swimlanes in processes
  2. Adding swimlanes to the process canvas
  3. Adding text boxes

Principles behind using swimlanes in processes

Swimlanes can be a visually powerful aid to group the roles, departments, systems, locations or flows involved in a given set of activities. There are certainly appropriate and useful in some situations, but we strongly suggest you don’t simply jump into swimlane mapping without thinking about whether you really need them, or how they are going to be used in the longer term or across diverse audiences. 

1. Highlighting parallel flows

Sometimes you might have a process which has a single starting point, single or rather uniform outcome and purpose - and yet may be performed out in many different ways. Examples include processing different types of complaints, different types of orders, etc. In such cases, you can use swimlanes to highlight to the target audience specific flows or variants of the same process.

2.Grouping activities by departments/roles

Historically, using swimlanes to group activities performed by different departments or roles has been part of BPMN-style mapping. In very large process maps the swimlanes had a value of helping users follow their responsibilities. However, if you were to adopt the UPN-mapping approach and create process hierarchies with no more than 6-12 activities in any given process then the value of swimlanes diminishes.

At the end, it’s up to your personal preference or the cultural acceptance of the way processes are documented in your organization. Here is an example of a simple process mapped with the UPN approach:


And an example of the same process with swimlanes applied to display interdepartamental hand-offs (you can see how much larger it makes the diagram & how it makes it slightly harder to follow the flow of the process):

Adding swimlanes to the process canvas

You can add swimlanes in any diagram. Switch to edit mode, and select the "Swimlanes" tab in the right panel. Click on "Add new" to add a new swimlane.

The first new swimlane will appear on the canvas horizontally with its starting point in the upper-left section of the currently displayed part of the canvas. You can control the length of all swimlanes using the +/- buttons and also the width, colors, and fonts of individual swimlanes.

You can remove any individual swimlane at any point using the "X" icon in the right panel or drag and drop it within the "Swimlanes" tab to re-order the swimlanes. 

There is no limit to the number of swimlanes you can have on a diagram, and they can be either horizontal or vertical (use "Switch flow" button to flip between horizontal/vertical). The swimlanes are a diagram's “background”, so they do not control the positioning of activity boxes and can be switched on or off at will. The placing of an activity box on a swimlane provides a visual cue but does not have any meaning or relationship at a system level within Elements. The resource defines the responsibility for an activity. 

See also this short video snippet:

Adding text boxes

If swimlanes are too heavy and inflexible for what you are trying to accomplish then you could use text boxes to highlight some process areas, like this:

When in edit mode, open up the left tools panel and drag and drop a text box into the canvas. Double click on the text box to change the text. Click on it once to open up its right panel where you can customize its colors, fonts and attachments.

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