How to Write a SWOT analysis

How to write a SWOT Analysis

A SWOT is a planning tool used to understand the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project or in a business. It involves specifying the objective of the business or project and identifying the internal and external factors that are supportive or unfavourable to achieving that objective.

SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats.

There are several ways of graphically representing the SWOT analysis matrix or grid. Several versions are shown on this article – use the one which is best suited to your application. (More templates can be seen on our website SWOT analysis templates )

While at first glance the SWOT looks like a simple model and easy to apply, I can say from experience, that to do a SWOT analysis that is both effective and meaningful, requires time and a significant resource. This cannot be done effectively by just one person. It requires a team effort. The SWOT methodology has the advantage of being used as a ‘quick and dirty’ tool or a comprehensive management too, and that one can lead to the other. This flexibility is one of the factors that has contributed to its success.

The term “SWOT analysis” is in itself an interesting term. To my understanding, the SWOT is not an analysis. It is a summary of a set of previous analyses – even if those were not more than 15 minutes of mini-brainstorming with yourself in front of your computer. The analysis or more correctly interpretation comes after the SWOT summary has been produced.

The SWOT Model

Positive

Internal

Negative or potential to be negative

Strengths

Weaknesses

Opportunities

Threats

External

 

Strengths Weaknesses

Opportunities

Offensive

make the most of these

Defensive

watch competition closely

Threats

Adjust

restore strengths

Survive -

turn around

Definition of SWOT

A SWOT analysis process generates information that is helpful in matching an organization or group’s goals, programs, and capacities to the social environment in which it operates. Note the SWOT itself is only a data capture – the analysis follows.

Strengths

  • Positive tangible and intangible attributes, internal to an organization.
  • They are within the organization’s control.

Weakness

  • Factors that are within an organization’s control that detract from its ability to attain the desired goal.
  • Which areas mightthe organization improve? 

Opportunities

  • External attractive factors that represent the reason for an organization to exist and develop.
  • What opportunities exist in the environment, which will propel the organization?
    Identify them by their “time frames”

Threats

  • External factors, beyond an organization’s control, which could place the organization mission or operation at risk.
  • The organization may benefit by having contingency plans to address them if they should occur.
  • Classify them by their “seriousness” and “probability of occurrence”.

Background to the SWOT Analysis

The SWOT analysis technique is credited by Albert Humphrey, who led a research project at Stanford University in the 1960s and 1970s using data from top companies.

The goal was to identify why corporate planning failed. The resulting research identified a number of key areas and the tool used to explore each of the critical areas was called SOFT. Humphrey and the original research team used the categories “What is good in the present is Satisfactory, good in the future is an Opportunity; bad in the present is a Fault and bad in the future is a Threat.” This was called the SOFT analysis.

In 1964 Urick and Orr at a conference changed the F to a W, and it has stuck as that, soFt to sWot

On its own a SWOT analysis is meaningless It works best when part of an overall strategy or in a given context or situation. This strategy may be as simple as:

  1. Goal or objective
  2. SWOT / SOFT
  3. Evaluation or measures of success
  4. Action

 

Introduction to SWOT

The SWOT analysis tool is great for developing an understanding of an organization or situation and decision-making for all sorts of situations in business, organizations and for individuals.

The SWOT analysis headings provide a good framework for reviewing strategy, position and direction of a company, product, project or person (career).

Doing a SWOT analysis can be very simple, however its strengths lie in its flexibility and experienced application. Remember the capture is only part of the picture.

Applications

A SWOT analysis can be used for:

  • Workshop sessions
  • Brainstorm meetings
  • Problem solving
  • Planning
  • Product evaluation
  • Competitor evaluation
  • Personal Development Planning
  • Decision Making (with force field analysis)

The SWOT is a great tool that can be used in association with PESTLE

Overview of SWOT

 

POSITIVE/ HELPFUL

to achieving the goal

NEGATIVE/ HARMFUL

to achieving the goal

INTERNAL Origin

facts/ factors of the organization

Strengths

Things that are good now, maintain them, build on them and use as leverage

Weaknesses

Things that are bad now, remedy, change or stop them.

EXTERNAL Origin

facts/ factors of the environment in which it operates

Opportunities

Things that are good for the future, prioritize them, capture them, build on them and optimize

Threats

Things that are bad for the future, put in plans to manage them or counter them

 

Aim of a SWOT Analysis

  • Reveal your competitive advantages
  • Analyze your prospects for sales, profitability and product development
  • Prepare your company for problems
  • Allow for the development of contingency plans

A SWOT analysis is a process to identify where you are strong and vulnerable — where you should defend and attack. The result of the process is a ‘plan of action’, or ‘action plan’.

The analysis can be performed on a product, on a service, a company or even on an individual.

Done properly, SWOT will give you the BIG PICTURE of the MOST IMPORTANT FACTORS that influence SURVIVAL and PROSPERITY. As well as a PLAN to ACT ON.

How to do a SWOT

Irrespective of whether you or your team are future planning for specific products, work, personal or any other area, the SWOT analysis process is the same.

  • Step 1 – Information collection – In the here and now…
    List all strengths that exist now. Then in turn, list all weaknesses that exist now. Be realistic but avoid modesty!
  • You can conduct one-on-one interviews. Or get a group together to brainstorm. A bit of both is frequently best
  • You’ll first want to prepare questions that relate to the specific company or product that you are analyzing. You’ll find some questions and issues below to get you going.
  • When facilitating a SWOT – search for insight through intelligent questioning and probing
  • Step 2 – What might be…
    List all opportunities that exist in the future. Opportunities are potential future strengths. Then in turn, list all threats that exist in the future. Threats are potential future weaknesses.
  • Step 3 – Plan of action…
    Review your SWOT matrix with a view to creating an action plan to address each of the four areas.
  • In summary:

    • Strengths need to be maintained, built upon or leveraged.
    • Weaknesses need to be remedied, changed or stopped.
    • Opportunities need to be prioritized, captured, built on and optimized.
    • Threats need to be countered or minimized and managed.

    A SWOT analysis can be very subjective, and two people rarely come-up with the same final version of SWOT. It is an excellent tool however, for looking at the negative factors first in order to turn them into positive factors. Use SWOT as guide and not a prescription.

    For more detailed examples, templates etc visit http://rapidbi.com/SWOTanalysis/

    Mike Morrison

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    Mike Morrison is director of RapidBI, an organisational effectiveness consultancy. He has been involved in HR, OD and strategic development for over 20 years. He can be contacted via www.rapidbi.com © This article is copyright RapidBI 2006, 2008 – it may be copied providing the authors are credited, and direct links maintained

     

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