Firstly, here’s what SWOT stands for:
Ok, so what? What’s it good for?
Pretty much anything you want to analyse. You could undertake a SWOT on yourself, your team, your department, your organisation, a project or venture… The list goes on.
The SWOT analysis is split into Internal and External factors, positives and negatives, and usually forms a grid.
Internal – Strengths (positives) and Weaknesses (negatives)
External – Opportunities (positives) and Threats (negatives)
Why would you use it?
Well, theres’ a lot of planning tools out there! In my opinion this is a simple, straight forward, easy to use tool that helps the user focus on the analysis. Basically, it’s the first step to engaging the brain into planning mode. What’s so great is that ANYONE can use this method. You don’t need to be a strategic thinker or a mathematical analyst. It is naturally designed around how the human brain tends to think and plan anyway. Now you might think, well if that’s how we think then why have a ‘tool’ for it?
These tools help you ‘focus’. An excitable mind about a project or a born entrepreneur sometimes needs that guide that will steer and develop creative innovative thoughts into a form of realistic delivery. This allows you to plan but forces you to consider what might go wrong. This is something that the majority of people will admit they don’t like to think about. Being positive is great, but being realistic is essential.
If you are blessed with the ability to step out of a situation and look in from the inside without emotion, you may find that a SWOT is something you can undertake without input from others. However, in my experience having the right amount of relevant contributors is going to make your analysis so much more balanced.
Undertaking a SWOT on your organisation usually needs a team. This would depend on what it was for, what you are hoping to achieve and the size and structure of the organisation. For example, a SWOT analysis on a small to medium sized business is a powerful tool for decision makers if they include the right people with enough experience of the company to give valuable input. I personally have used it for strategic planning, operations and departments.
It is useful to undertake an analysis with your own thoughts first and then include others to see how far apart you are, if at all.
There’s a fair amount of templates available online for a simple SWOT and its easy enough to draft up your own. The point isn’t how pretty it looks, its how useful it is.
For this article I only refer to the SWOT and its singular use. In later blogs I consider the usefulness of a SWOT/PESTLE combined for Strategic planning.
Pitfalls to consider for a SWOT
The SWOT is quite a basic tool and even if you go into detail it is designed in a way that best allows for identification of key points and doesn’t offer measurable impact. So if you considered a strength being an organisations reputation how do you measure this? If you gave a scale of 1-10 how do you rate the value of that, particularly when comparing against another strength. The same applies for external factors, threats or risks can be identified but unless you consider the potential impact of that threat there is no measurable significance.
Everyone’s an expert! Contributions to a SWOT are only as good as the contributors and members of the team can be protective of their own departments. Consider the Marketing Manager holding traditional Branding as a strength when others may feel it could do with modernising.
It offers little in the way of prompts and this can result in a rather empty analysis. Knowing what to ask to gain the information you need is more than helpful when starting an analysis, consider the external PESTLE (discussed in another blog) and how much easier it would be to think of opportunities and threats if using this particular Acronym.
An identified weakness is subject to interpretation, it could also be a strength. For my own organisation I consider our location having a Northern address as a weakness as most of our business is closer to London. On the plus side, in comparison to similar companies in the South our rates, rent and costs are much lower.
The power of the SWOT
Done right and with a good team the exercise is in itself a great tool for brainstorming and creating a buzz of engagement if managed correctly.
Its easy ! You can do this quickly and there’s no expensive software or consultants required, just the coming together of brains.
You can use this for a variety of situations and departments enabling an understanding of the internal / external factors of the overall organisation as well as then comparing this to individual departments / products / teams.
The SWOT gives the starting point for planning for the future. It will show what areas of the business are in need of attention to protect from the threats identified and also gives us food for thought in considering opportunities. By its nature in observing the strengths you will naturally find the opportunities the company can take advantage of.
The SWOT is incredibly useful when you use it correctly with the right team and a great starting point for planning. It is however only worthwhile if the findings are addressed. Other planning tools and techniques then come into play.
If you want to take the SWOT further you can move onto a PESTLE which provides an acronym to expand and examine the external factors that could result in opportunities and threats. You can read my blog on this here….
Learners: If you are undertaking an ILM or CMI NVQ in Leadership and management this post will assist your learning for the following unit / criteria:
500 ML45 1.1 Evaluate a range of strategic planning models
500 ML45 1.2 Evaluate the advantages and limitations of a range of analytical techniques
700 ML57 1.1 Evaluate a range of strategic planning theories and models.
703 ML56 1.2 Evaluate the use of environmental scanning techniques and scenario planning models.
703 ML56 1.6 Analyse the usefulness of strategic planning tools and theories
703 ML56 1.7 Assess the relationship between strategy analysis and strategic choice
703ML56 2.1 Evaluate the impact of political, economic, social, technological, legal, ethical and environmental factors on an organization and its markets
703ML56 2.5 Model a range of scenarios relating to an organisation’s intended market position