The SWOT Analysis

During the process of evaluating all aspects of a particular project, various methods are used to determine factors inherent to the success of the project (or projects). Resource constraints, budgets, timelines and so forth all play a part in determining how feasible a project may be moving forward. Additionally, various risks may be quantified and itemized to give the team a good idea of what potential downsides they may have to contend with as the project moves forward.

From the standpoint of any organization, evaluation of various factors that could affect the projects, the programs or the teams that make up the company are a form of ‘self-introspection’. This type of inward looking view is an invaluable method to give everyone a good idea of where they stand and how the landscape works from their perspective.

So when it comes to this ‘self-introspection’, what method is best suited to gauge the landscape and give the team (or teams) the best overview of the situation?

Enter the SWOT analysis.

SWOT Analysis Overview

For those unfamiliar with or new to the concept, a SWOT analysis is basically a strategic planning method for use by teams to give them insight into four key areas of their project or business venture. The term ‘SWOT’ is actually an acronym for those key areas, which are itemized as follows:

  • STRENGTHS – The particular characteristics of the business, team or technology that gives them a particular advantage over their competitors in the industry.
  • WEAKNESSESS – The particular characteristics of the business that place them at a particular disadvantage relative to their competitors in the industry.
  • OPPORTUNITIES – The external factors that can be exploited to give the team or business a chance for higher profits or success with their particular project of business venture.
  • THREATS – The external factors that pose a risk or potential trouble for the project or business venture.

The aforementioned items are displayed in the adjacent graphic at the top right of this post. Note that the four items produce a grid that separates out the various pieces of the SWOT analysis and demarcates them further into ‘Helpful‘, ‘Harmful‘, ‘Internal‘ and ‘External‘ areas. So for example, a ‘weakness‘ would be ‘Internal‘ and ‘Harmful‘ while an ‘opportunity‘ would be ‘External‘ and ‘Helpful‘.

SWOT Analysis Usage

An actual SWOT analysis is actually best performed in a group. Think of it as a ‘brainstorming’ session that can be done to best assess all the various factors that need and should be catalogued. (Note: For information on how to conduct an effective brainstorming session, please consult the post: Effective Brainstorming with the Project Team)

The best way to approach the various variables of the SWOT is to tackle each individually. So when performing the session, target each of the components one-by-one rather than having a free for all occur where individuals are giving responses all over the grid. Being systematic in this case is more effective and will allow the team members to focus on each area at a time.

As a set of examples, below are some key ideas that may form pertaining to the various pieces of the SWOT:

Strengths

  • Strong team with solid technical background
  • Good reputation

Weaknessess

  • Team is spread thin
  • Dependent on other teams for core components

Opportunities

  • Aligned with megatrends (projects focus on mobile/cloud)
  • Niche product deliverable

Threats

  • Competitor products
  • Economic issues

As can be seen, cataloging all the variables can lead to a wide variety of responses.

Now once all the factors are listed out and itemized, it is advantageous to derive some actionable items for certain ones. Note that not all areas can be easily handled since certain types of external factors are well beyond the capabilities of the project team. However, even if one cannot do anything about a particular SWOT analysis factor, that does not mean that one cannot be somewhat prepared for it. (Such as being cognizant of external economic factors)

A good follow-up when overviewing the various ideas that were spawned during the SWOT is to label each one with a particular letter value to denote how best to tackle it. One letter system that can be used is:

(S) – Strategy

(T) – Task

(P) – Project

So for example, in the above list of SWOT items, the ‘Economic Issues‘ item can be labelled with an ‘S‘ for ‘Strategy‘. The team may think of an effective way to deal with external economic factors in order to best mitigate them. Or as another example, the ‘Niche Product Deliverable‘ item may be labelled with a ‘P‘ for ‘Project‘, thereby creating an initiative for its eventual creation and release into the broader market. And similarly, other SWOT factors can be handled as needed. Note that not every SWOT factor requires a label. Only items that may be generally actionable need to be given a label.

SWOT Analysis Conclusions

As one can see, a SWOT analysis is an effective way to strategize around a given project or program. It can be used to tackle various technical, marketing or business areas to give a broad reaching overview of the project/program as a whole. In many cases, a SWOT analysis can be part of a broader Risk Assessment that is being performed as part of the project planning cycle. Whatever the situation, SWOT provides an invaluable resource to utilize by the project manager.