14 Top Tips for a SWOT Analysis that Works
Prepare for strategic plans, projects, organization changes, or career moves with a SWOT Analysis.
If you already consider yourself experienced with conducting SWOT Analysis, check tips 8, 10, 11, 12, and 13 for tips that may be new to you.
Forward these tips to your colleagues who work with strategy, projects, or products. It could help them.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the experts there are few.”
Shunryu Suzuki (1905-1971)
1. Start the SWOT Meeting with a Statement of Objective
A SWOT Analysis focuses on one objective. That single objective may be a Strategic Business Objective, tactic, project, or product.
Post the SWOT’s objective at the front of the SWOT meeting room and state it at the beginning of the meeting.
2. Each Strategic Business Objective or Project Needs a Unique SWOT
If the objective of the SWOT changes, many of the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats may change. Each SWOT analysis is uniquely related to its objective.
If the Strategic Business Objective, project, or product changes, then you should reexamine the SWOT.
3. Strengths and Weaknesses are Internal. Opportunities and Threats are External.
SWOT analysis is from two perspectives. Strengths and weaknesses are an internal perspective – What are our organization’s strengths and weaknesses? Opportunities and Threats/Trends are an external perspective – What outside our organization, such as competitors, legislation, social and technical trends, can impact us?
The SWOT Matrix used in Critical to Success includes “Internal” and “External” labels to remind team members.
4. Define the Timeframe for Your SWOT
SWOT factors such as resources, competitive position, customer attitudes, political environment, and technical trends all change over time. Put the timeframe for the SWOT Analysis on the wall underneath the SWOT’s Statement of Objective (SBO, project, etc.).
5. Prepare Questions that Drive Discussion
As the facilitator of a SWOT Analysis or SWOT Action Plan, you should prepare questions that help the team identify and drill into the most important three to five factors in each quadrant.
6. Prepare Team Members who want to Present Outlier SWOT Factors
Prior to the SWOT meeting, the facilitator should talk with team members to get a general idea of the factors that will be discussed. Listen for any critical topics the team might not be familiar with. If there is an outlier, often a new external trend or competitive move, the team member who brings that topic may want to inform everyone using a “rapid presentation” format. Rapid Presentations are three or four slides used in a time-limited five- to ten-minute presentation.
7. Focus on Quantifiable Details You Can Base Decisions On
Do not let discussions devolve into the same old lunch-discussions that everyone has chewed on for months.
Quickly focus on topics, then dive deeply into specific, quantifiable data, not opinions. For example, if you have a weakness in specific skills areas or a distribution channel, state that explicitly so the weakness can be compared to the strategy or project/product the SWOT is focused on. If there are rumors of partner or affiliate unhappiness, use concrete quotes or survey results that pinpoint specific areas so action can be taken.
Detailed factors are important to creating the SWOT Action Plan,
- A specific detailed strength can be used as a leverage point. “Our overnight distribution network in the XYZ niche gives us a significant advantage over PDQ for small parts in the Southern region.”
- A specific detailed weakness can be a warning. “We have a forecast shortage of experienced financial auditors next year. We need to hire for this skill to complete this project.”
- A specific detailed opportunity can be a target. “MNO excavators won the bid on the government expansion, but sources tell me they don’t have the equipment and may have trouble financing expansion. How can we be ready if they fall out?”
- A specific detailed threat can be a danger to avoid or a warning to prepare. “PDQ, our largest competitor, has been talking to our partners in the Western region. How can we create stronger alliances?”
A good idea is to create short, bulleted topic review pages everyone can review a day or two prior to the meeting. These are not one-page opinion pieces. Include quantifiable data and insights that can drive action.
8. Work First On External Factors
It is easy, especially in the adrenaline-driven frenzy of new startups, for a SWOT meeting to turn into a back slapping party with everyone high-fiving about “how great we are.” To gain a more realistic perspective, begin your SWOT analysis by first examining external factors. Many teams use a PESTEL (PESTLE), see tip 9, Analysis as the structure for their threats analysis.
Near term threats are usually obvious, what about trends? Trends in social, technological, political, legal, and environmental have and will continue to make and break organizations and product lines.
9. Do a PESTEL (PESTLE) Analysis before the SWOT to get Multi-Faceted, In-Depth Threats
PESTEL or PESTLE is a framework for analyzing external threats. You may want to have a small group do a PESTEL analysis prior to the SWOT meeting.
Like SWOT, do not begin a PESTEL analysis without having a clearly defined Strategic Business Objective (SBO) or project as the focus. If you change the SBO or project, then the PESTEL must be updated.
PESTEL is a mnemonic standing for,
10. Prioritize the “Critical Few” Three to Five Factors in Each Quadrant
SWOT Analysis can become long lists all possible SWOT factors. These long lists defeat the purpose of using the SWOT Analysis to drive action and decision.
Narrow the final SWOT Analysis to the most critical three to five factors in each quadrant. Then, use these factors in your SWOT Action Plan.
11. Identify Top SWOT Factors with an Excel-Based Decision Matrix
If you have difficulty identifying the top three to five factors for each quadrant of the SWOT, use a simplified version of the Excel-based weighted decision matrix to help your team decide. To make the process simple, limit the factors (across the top) to just the top three factors you want to judge on, do not weight the factors (since there are only a few), and use 1, 3, 9 ratings for each SBO or project.
Click to learn about and download the Excel-based decision matrix.
12. SWOT Analysis Should Drive a SWOT Action Plan.
Doing a SWOT Analysis is pointless unless it drives actions and decisions that impact the SBO or project that is the objective of the SWOT.
The SWOT Analysis should drive decisions and actions. Don’t make it an academic exercise.
Use a SWOT Action Plan to identify what action you will take to,
- Leverage strengths
- Workaround weaknesses
- Take advantage of or avoid opportunities
- Create barriers to threats and prepare for trends
13. “Red Team” Your SWOT
In scenario planning “friendly teams” are divided into two groups and pitted against each other to develop competitive scenarios and tactics. The “Red Team” is the team that puts on the hats of competitors and develops tactics to counter your organization’s strategy, project, or product.
Once you have developed your SWOT Action Plan, create a “Red Team” using a team of innovative managers and SMEs. See what tactics they develop to attack, counter, or disable your SBO, project, or product. This is often a fun and very enlightening exercise.
14. Get Feedback from the Real World
Once you complete your SWOT Matrix, run it by key stakeholders. You might include internal stakeholders impacted by a project or key suppliers and partners involved in an external strategy.