SWOT Analysis

Quick Summary
Screenshot A template and tips for conducting a SWOT Analysis—a review of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats affecting the subject of the analysis. SWOT analysis is often used to evaluate strategic choices (project objectives, priorities, etc.) and can also be used to review potential impacts on things like a process, solution, or business entity.

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What this is

A SWOT Analysis is a simple tool that can be used to facilitate and document an evaluation of the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats related to a given business process, a proposed solution, or even a business entity such as a department or functional team. The results of the SWOT analysis are often used to help group or prioritize projects or requirements, clarify a business need, define or refine problem statements, or make a decision. The template includes some contextual examples of SWOT analysis applied to specific situations, to help you see the possible breadth of applications.

Why it's useful

A SWOT analysis is a useful tool for evaluating the viability of a given business process, determining the priority of the various business needs, and guiding development of the right solution. Business Analysts, or project managers filling that role, are often asked to facilitate SWOT analysis on business processes or functions, especially while the detailed project scope is being clarified. Sometimes, a SWOT analysis is requested to facilitate discussion of different vendor tools, or different solution options to address a business need. You may consider using a SWOT analysis as a way to identify risks or concerns that aren't openly discussed; the balance of the analysis positions criticisms in an objective and non-confrontational way.

Because they call out what's wrong or harmful to the subject being analyzed, the results of the SWOT analysis can be used as an input to a problem statement articulating what must be done to fix the problem. SWOT analysis results can also serve as inputs to risk assessment and management, since weaknesses and threats are likely obstacles that can hinder success. SWOT analysis results can also be used to help categorize, decompose, or allocate requirements to a given business function, or as an input to decision analysis.

How to use it

  1. Start with a clear picture of the object of the analysis, and the reasons for conducting it. Make sure you're doing a current analysis, taking into consideration everything known to be true at that point in time. By performing an objective, point-in-time analysis based the current facts—without elaborating or embellishing with what-ifs and outlying worst/best cases—you'll get a better, more accurate picture of reality, and can use that to make better informed decisions. Speculative analysis conducted in a vacuum or lab won't serve you as well as a clear, contextual picture of the idea, process, tool, team, or other entity being analyzed.
  2. Assemble the right set of stakeholders to provide input to the analysis, so it will be current, relevant, accurate, and thorough. You'll need participants who understand the entity itself, as well as those who can look more broadly at how the entity is positioned in a bigger picture.
  3. Conduct the analysis. Use the guidelines and template to facilitate the discussion and capture the results for future reference. Ask your participants to be candid and speak from their own experiences and perspectives; this means ensuring they have a safe, non-judgmental environment for the analysis, so facilitate accordingly. Ideally, try to keep examples as current as possible—within the last several months—rather than allowing the group to dwell on past experiences that are no longer relevant to the current reality.
  4. Publish the results and follow up. When the analysis is complete, review, summarize, and present your findings to help identify gaps, prioritize work, or manage risks.

About the Author

Sinikka L. Waugh, PMP, is the founder and head coach of the project management coaching firm Your Clear Next Step, L.L.C. Sinikka is an actively practicing project management consultant, known for consistently helping teams find innovative ways to leverage effective project strategies across multiple disciplines and technologies. With over 10 years in project roles (primarily program manager, project manager, and business analyst) Sinikka has successfully applied project and leadership expertise to improve project performance in a wide variety of industries, including publishing, education, product fulfillment and distribution, insurance, event and travel management, human resources, and financial services. As a coach, Sinikka's down-to-earth, "try this now" approach blends with her passion for helping others improve. Her energetic and engaging style helps make both the art and science of project management accessible to those she works with.

Sinikka holds a BA from Central College, an MA from the University of Iowa, and is a certified Project Management Professional through the Project Management Institute.

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