SWOT Analysis

Reporting SWOT Analysis (all rights reserved)
Difficulty:  Moderate.
Audience:  People seeking to better appreciate their organisation or situation in terms of the internal and external environment.
Suggested Time:  60 minutes.

SWOT Analysis falls into and out of favour at times (a bit like butchers' paper).  Although it can seem a little long in the tooth, if it is done properly it is a powerful tool for gaining a better shared understanding of the organisation and its context.

SWOT Analysis involves identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the organisation, and the opportunities and threats that confront the organisation (Identification Phase); analysing them to learn from the content (Analysis Phase); and documenting the outcomes (Reporting Phase).


There are some simple questions you can ask to identify each of the elements of the SWOT:
Strengths:  What are the great things we have? And, what things are we great at?
Weaknesses:  What important things are we missing?  And, what things do we do badly?
Opportunities:  What product, customer-focussed things do we do?  And, what is likely to happen that could give us an advantage over our competitors?
Threats:  What things are happening (or might happen) that could blindside us/threaten our ability to achieve our goals?
Rather than standing at the front of the room and writing down the elements identified by the whole group, it can be good to put the markers in the hands of the individuals identifying the elements.  You can do this by putting four pieces of butchers' paper in the four corners of the room, each with one label (strengths on one, weaknesses on another, etc).  Then you ask people to go to all four corners, reading what has been written, and adding their own items.  This can give participants a greater ownership of the process.

You may wish to separate navel gazing from looking outwards.  To do this, you can talk about the characteristics of the organisation, and ask people to identify strengths and weaknesses.  Then, you can separately ask people to identify opportunities and threats.

A big risk in doing a SWOT is superficiality.  Five items per heading is not thorough.  An even number of items per heading must be contrived.  Lots of items means lots of thought.  Also, short phrases do not provide the meaning behind the entries.  It may seem excessive to ask for complete sentences.  If so, make sure that everyone has a shared understanding of the meanings of the entries.  And do not try to limit the entries.  The more the merrier.  There will be plenty of opportunity to shortlist or prioritise in the Analysis Phase.

It is not unusual to have contradictory entries - one person sees deep (rather than broad) technical skills as a strength, and another sees these as a weakness.  They are a strength for as long as they are relevant, but they might result in a blinkered view.  Having a deep expert in kerosene lamp design may have been a strength until the light globe and household electricity became commonplace.  Having deep expertise in kerosene lamp design may have contributed to an inability to benefit from the new technology of electric light.  I like to leave contradictory entries alone; perhaps asking for clarification from their contributors.


The analysis can take many forms, including:
  1. Simply looking at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and discussing what these mean to the organisation.
  2. Selecting the Top 3 in each list and identifying how to exploit the strengths and opportunities and how to overcome or avoid the weaknesses and threats
  3. Literally drawing links (lines) between different elements - for example, seeking the strengths which help to extinguish a specific threat, or an opportunity that could assist in overcoming specific weaknesses, or the weaknesses that may diminish our ability to overcome a specific threat, etc.
  4. Categorising each element before examining them in their category groups.  Categories could include 'financial', 'human resources', 'products/services', 'reputation', and others. 

Often a SWOT Analysis is reported by just presenting a 2 column by 2 row table with each cell labelled Strengths, Weaknesses, etc, and the relevant elements listed in each cell.  This ignores the results of the 'analysis' - which was the point of the process.

Near to the table should be a list of questions, comments and conclusions that arose from the SWOT.