Swimlanes are used to show how roles, rights, tasks, responsibilities, obligations, liabilities or remedies are distributed between different parties. Each party’s area of responsibility is represented by a column, or lane, where the items are assigned. Shared responsibility items are placed in-between lanes.
Contract users may struggle to keep track of all their rights, obligations, and responsibilities – and how they were allocated – because the information needs to be retrieved from many different clauses, or even from different documents. This is particularly a challenge with long and complex contracts.
Swimlanes are helpful in planning and presenting contractual situations where both parties have separate and joint responsibilities (e.g. intellectual property rights allocation; outsourcing; personal data processing; quality monitoring).
During the contract creation stage, swimlanes work as a checklist and help the parties to keep track of all responsibilities and tasks that need to be assigned, so that nothing is forgotten. During the contract implementation stage, swimlanes allow the parties to check more easily on their share of responsibilities, so they are in a better position to deliver on them.
A major part of any contract is about assigning rights, obligations, and responsibilities to the parties. Swimlanes provide a concise summary to help people to understand their roles and responsibilities, align expectations, and to monitor the contract.
Swimlanes can also promote collaboration between the parties, because they clarify who needs to do what, and whether a responsibility is shared. During contract planning, they allow the parties to spot whether the contract is balanced and collaborative, or whether most of the responsibilities weigh on just one party. They can also be used to make the parties aware of areas where the contract remains silent.
© 2019 Stefania Passera, Helena Haapio, and WorldCC
This swimlane, used in a visual guide explaining the Finnish public procurement terms (JYSE 2009 SERVICES), illustrates how intellectual property rights are allocated between the parties. Different lcoors and icons are used to clearly distinguish between the parties' areas of responsibility. Shared responsibilities are placed in the middle. Excerpts from clauses are placed verbatim in the swimlane, so as to avoid discrepancies between the original terms and the visual guide.
© 2013 Aalto University & Suomen Kuntaliitto ry (The Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities).
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons BY-ND 3.0 Unported License
Designer: Stefania Passera
A side-by-side layout inspired by swimlanes juxtaposes the equivalent rights of the customer and the firm. This makes them easy to compare, and it also accords equivalent respect to the two parties in the relationship.
© 2015 Coffin Mew LLP. Used with Permission.
Designer: Stefania Passera
In this example, swimlanes are used to explain the strategy to allocate background and foreground IP rights in a co-creation case.
© 2019 Deepika Jeyakodi, Mirjam E. Ros, and BIS Publishers. Used with Permission.
Designer: Rachel Ericson-Carmiggelt
This swimlane, used in a short form construction contract (intended for use with smaller projects, but both B2B and B2C) illustrates the parties' respective obligations. Each party has one side of the contract, and a different colour. Shared or mutual obligations are full width and in a third colour.
This clause sets out the responsibilities of two parties in a service agreement. One of the biggest challenges in managing those relationships was explaining the feedback process and deadlines: a swimlane was added to support the text.
© 2022 Hey Plain Jane & Novation Consulting. Used with permission.
Have you used swimlanes in your contracts? You can contribute to the Library by sharing an example.
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