Jira Swimlanes: Full Overview about Swimlanes

April 26, 2023 · 9 min read

We keep on creating and updating a series of articles about the basic terms in project management, and specifically, about Jira, and this guide is about Jira swimlanes.

In this article, we’ll talk about Jira swimlane, a horizontal categorization of issues in the Active sprints of a Scrum board, or on a Kanban board.

What are swimlanes in Jira?

Swimlanes in Jira are a visual way of categorizing and grouping related issues in a Kanban board or Scrum board. Swimlanes can be used to organize issues based on various criteria such as assignee, priority, status, project, or any custom field.

You can use swimlanes to help you distinguish tasks of different categories, such as workstreams, users, application areas, etc.

Or, a team may use swimlanes to filter out high-priority issues from nonpriority ones, or to check which issues are assigned to each team member.

In a Kanban board, swimlanes are typically used to represent different stages of a workflow or process, such as "To Do," "In Progress," and "Done." Each swim lane represents a specific subset of issues that are in a particular stage of the workflow.

In a Scrum board, swimlanes can be used to represent different sprints, team members, or product backlogs. Each swimlane can represent a sprint, and the issues in that swimlane represent the backlog for that particular sprint.

Swimlanes can be horizontal or vertical and can be configured to show or hide depending on the user's preference. By using swimlanes in Jira, teams can easily visualize the progress of their work and identify areas that need improvement.

How to create swimlanes in Jira

Let’s create a swimlane in Jira step-by-step. Foremost, please check your team role:

To manage settings within a board, you need to be either:

  • a project admin for the location of the board, or
  • a board admin for the board itself

Then, organize issues on a board based on specific criteria. Jira Swimlanes can be created using the following steps:

Click on the "Board Settings" button, which appears in the top right corner. In the Board Settings menu, click on the "Swimlanes" option.

Under the "Base Swimlanes on" section, select the criteria that you want to use to create your swimlanes. For example, you can choose to create swimlanes based on Queries, Stories, Assignees, Epics, or Project.

Once you have set up your swimlanes, click on the "Save" button to apply the changes.

What Jira Swimlanes Can You Configure

As already mentioned, each swimlane typically represents a different category, and tasks or projects are assigned to the appropriate swimlane based on their classification.

  • By Assignee – provides an individual view of the work that has been assigned to a team member, and is useful to determine how dependent a project is on a certain person.
  • By Status – grouping issues into horizontal sections on your Jira board based on their status: To Do", "In Progress", and "Done"
  • By Epic – Jira swimlanes by Epics display the epics in the project and their current state
  • By Project – check the state of all the projects you are reporting on
  • By Query – probably the most powerful and interesting categorization of Jira swimlanes, as query-based swimlanes are made by writing appropriate Jira Query Language (JQL); read on to find out how JQL is configured in Jira
  • None of the above – leave your swimlanes in Jira ungrouped

After you have created swimlanes in Jira, you can drag and drop issues into the appropriate swimlane. This will help you visualize the progress of your work and make it easier to identify which tasks are assigned to whom, what their status is, and how they are prioritized.

For example, if you've created swimlanes based on assignees, you can quickly see which tasks are assigned to each team member.

JQL and Swimlanes

In Jira, you can use JQL (Jira Query Language) for searching and filtering issues.

JQL can be used to create more complex queries:

  • to search for specific text within issue fields, such as the summary or description;
  • to filter issues based on a wide range of criteria, such as issue type, status, priority, project, and more.

By combining JQL and swimlanes, teams can create powerful views of their work in Jira.

For example, a team might use JQL to filter for all bugs with a certain priority level, and then group those issues by assignee using swimlanes. This creates a view of all critical and urgent bugs assigned to each team member, making it easier to prioritize and focus on the primary work.

How to proceed with some JQL input to group swimlanes in Jira software:

  1. Click on the "Board Settings" button (gear icon) on the top right corner of the board.
  2. In the "General" tab, scroll down to the "Swimlanes" section.
  3. Select the "Query" option and enter your JQL query in the text box.
  4. Click the "Save" button to apply the changes.

See an example of a JQL query that groups swimlanes by assignee of each issue:

assignee in (currentUser()) ORDER BY assignee ASC

NB: For more details, check out an article about Jira agile boards here.

What are the purposes of Jira swimlanes?

Jira swimlanes are a useful feature that provides several benefits to teams using the Jira project management software. Here are some of the benefits of Jira swimlanes:

Improved visibility: Swimlanes help teams visualize their work in a more organized and meaningful way. By grouping related issues together, teams can quickly identify dependencies, bottlenecks, and areas for improvement.

Enhanced collaboration: Swimlanes help teams collaborate more effectively by giving them a clear view of who is working on what, and how their work fits into the overall project.

Increased productivity: Swimlanes provide a clear focus for teams, helping them prioritize their work and stay on track and eliminate work delays. This can lead to increased productivity and faster delivery of projects.

Customizable views: Jira swimlanes can be customized to fit the specific needs of different teams. For example, teams can create swimlanes based on project status, issue type, priority, or any other criteria that is relevant to their work.

Better reporting: Swimlanes make it easier for teams to generate reports and metrics on their work. By tracking progress across different swimlanes, teams can identify trends and areas for improvement, and make data-driven decisions about how to optimize their workflow.

How many swimlanes can you have in Jira?

The number of swimlanes that can be created in Jira is not strictly limited, and it depends on the needs and requirements of the project or team using Jira.

However, it is important to keep in mind that too many swimlanes can make the workflow confusing and hard to manage, so we recommend keeping the number of swimlanes in Jira to a manageable level.

What is the difference between swimlanes and columns in Jira?

In Jira, swimlanes and columns are two different concepts that serve different purposes. Swimlanes are horizontal rows in a Jira board that represent categories or groups of issues. They can be used to group issues by team, project, priority, or any other criteria that helps to organize and manage the workflow. Swimlanes can be customized to show different fields or criteria, and can be collapsed or expanded as needed.

On the other hand, columns are vertical lanes that represent the stages of a workflow. They can be used to track the progress of issues from one stage to another, such as from "To Do" to "In Progress" to "Done". Columns can also be customized to reflect the specific stages of a team's workflow.

In summary, swimlanes are used to categorize or group issues, while columns are used to track the progress of issues through a workflow. Both swimlanes and columns are customizable in Jira to reflect the unique needs of a team or project.

How to gain better visibility in Jira?

Swimlanes is a super option to get better visibility and present team data on the board, but if you need an even more detailed view on how everything is connected within projects and to monitor everything on a clear timeline view to see what relates to what – try out the Planyway plugin.

Planyway will show you the scope of works here and there by projects on the timeline. There you will be able to sort out tasks by users, by epics, or by projects.

It is a killer app for small and medium size teams, to get better visibility on the board, with its one screen resource workload view, Gantt chart view (see the GIF above), shared team calendar that allows to monitor issues from multiple projects together on a single page and more.

A few words about Planyway team planner

Planyway is a popular project management tool that integrates with Jira and Trello and provides additional features for managing tasks and projects.

Using Planyway can help you visualize and organize your projects more effectively, and can make it easier to manage multiple projects from one place.

A brief summary on Jira swimlanes

Let’s sum up what we do have in the end. What is swimlane in agile? Typically, swimlane is graphical divisions within a kanban board to group and prioritize issues and projects by different categories, such as team members, or some labels, and find reliance and monitor workflow a way faster.

The purpose of using swimlanes is to clarify who is responsible for each step in the process, as well as to help identify areas where handoffs occur between different departments or individuals.

Swimlanes are widely used among teams as a way of organizing and visualizing information in Jira.

Add swimlanes to structure team workflow, identify areas for improvement, increase efficiency and reduce errors, and get better visibility on the ongoing planning process.

Get better visibility on team workflow with Jira timeline

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