How to Create a SWOT Analysis

Strategy

A SWOT analysis can help you discover the best direction to move, strengths you can take advantage of, and weaknesses you need to avoid or shore up. Making a SWOT analysis worthwhile takes brainstorming, discussion, arguing, prioritizing, and finally, executing an action plan. It should break new ground and create new insights into developing a project, changing an organization, or building your career.

Prepare for projects, organization changes, or career moves with a SWOT Analysis.

Prepare for projects, organization changes, or career moves with a SWOT Analysis.

If you’re just doing a SWOT, then you can probably get it done in a couple of hours of good discussion and a few pads of large Post-It Notes®, but if you want to follow it with a SWOT Action Plan, then you will probably need a second meeting of two or more hours. I highly recommend having each of these meetings in the morning. Have tea, coffee, cheese, yogurt, etc. available. Have lunch brought in if you expect to go over the lunch hour; not too many sweets or you could get insulin-induced brain crashes before lunch. If you’re doing a personal SWOT analysis on your own career, you might work on it for an hour, set it aside, come back a few times as you have insights, and then have one or two close (constructive) friends review it as a reality check.

Download SWOT Analysis and SWOT Action Plan Templates – Critical to Success

Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating a SWOT analysis. (A step-by-step for creating the SWOT Action Plan is in a related article. < link>

1. Stakeholders must define a clear, one sentence objective for the SWOT. All work and discussions around the SWOT should be relative to this one sentence objective. For example,

  • What do we need to consider on the Forbin project?
  • What position will the XYZ product have in the marketplace if we launch in time to ship for Christmas?
  • What is my status if I take this new career direction?

2. Prior to the SWOT meeting, prepare a room with enough wall space for Post-It Notes ® used in brainstorming which will feed the SWOT and then the SWOT Action Plan. The SWOT and SWOT Action Plan don’t have to all be up on a wall at the same time, but if you do it all together a little extra room won’t hurt. See how to brainstorm with Post-It Notes®. <link>

If you are doing a Personal SWOT, then clear the dishes off the kitchen table and use 3” X 3” (7.5 cm X 7.5 cm) Post-It Notes. Just be sure to leave a clear space for the kids when they come down for breakfast.

3. Convene a brainstorming meeting to develop the SWOT analysis.

  • For a project or organizational change SWOT use a team of 8 to 12 subject matter experts (SMEs).
  • Post the one sentence objective at the front of the room. Yes, even if you’re doing a personal SWOT it’s a good idea to write a one sentence objective.
  • Make sure everyone understands the objective.

4. Brainstorm Opportunities and Threats first.
Opportunities and Threats are external, such as new markets, competitor’s products or services, regulations, competitive barriers, and so forth. Opportunities and threats are usually in a future time frame. Examples of Opportunities and Threats are here for business and here for personal.

  • Use the brainstorming method described in Critical to Success.
  • Identify the top five (5) Opportunities and top five (5) Threats.
  • Don’t be surprised if it’s easy to come up with lots of Opportunities, but only have a limited number of Threats. That’s the human mind at work. Remember that person who is sometimes annoying because all they see are problems? This is when you can use their insights.
  • If you’re working with a team this process of ranking the top 5 is important. That’s where group understanding and consensus is built.
  • Post these in their SWOT Quadrants on the wall.
Brainstorm and then post items in the SWOT.

Brainstorm and then post items in the SWOT.

5. Brainstorm Strengths and Weaknesses second.
Strengths and Weaknesses are internal, such as, mentors or key employees, intellectual property, skills or leading edge processes, image and brand strength, and so forth. Strengths and weaknesses are usually in the current time frame. Examples of Strengths and Weaknesses are here for business and here for personal. <links>

  • Use the brainstorming method described in Critical to Success.
  • Identify the top five (5) Strengths and top five (5) Weaknesses.
  • Don’t be surprised if it’s easy to come up with lots of Strengths, but only have a limited number of Weaknesses. Again, that’s the same flaw that causes most of us to think we can do more than we really can. Grab that person who is first to see the problems and make sure they are in the room.
  • If you’re working with a team this process of ranking the top 5 is important. That’s where group understanding and consensus is built.
  • Post these in their SWOT Quadrants on the wall.

6. Prioritize the top five (5) in each Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat quadrant.

Prepare for projects, organization changes, or career moves with a SWOT Analysis.

Prepare for projects, organization changes, or career moves with a SWOT Analysis.

Download SWOT Analysis and SWOT Action Plan Templates – Critical to Success

At this point you and your team should have a good understanding of your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. The next, and really important step, is to create a SWOT Action Plan. The SWOT Action Plan is where you take action on what you have discovered. Executing the Action Plan is Critical to Success.

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