The SWOT analysis is an extremely useful tool for understanding and decision-making for all sorts of situations in business and organizations.
SWOT analysis is a strategic planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project or in a business venture. It involves specifying the objective of the business venture or project and identifying the internal and external factors that are favorable and unfavorable to achieve that objective. The technique is credited to Albert Humphrey, who led a convention at Stanford University in the 1960s and 1970s using data from Fortune 500 companies. A SWOT analysis must first start with defining a desired end state or objective. A SWOT analysis may be incorporated into the strategic planning model. Strategic Planning, has been the subject of much research.
Strengths: attributes of the person or company that are helpful to achieving the objective(s).
Weaknesses: attributes of the person or company that are harmful to achieving the objective(s).
Opportunities: external conditions that are helpful to achieving the objective(s).
Threats: external conditions which could do damage to the objective(s).
Identification of SWOTs are essential because subsequent steps in the process of planning for achievement of the selected objective may be derived from the SWOTs.
First, the decision makers have to determine whether the objective is attainable, given the SWOTs. If the objective is NOT attainable a different objective must be selected and the process repeated.
Internal and External Factors
The aim of any SWOT analysis is to identify the key internal and external factors that are important to achieving the objective. These come from within the company’s unique value chain. SWOT analysis groups key pieces of information into two main categories:
Internal factors – The strengths and weaknesses internal to the organization.
External factors – The opportunities and threats presented by the external environment to the organization. – Use a PEST or PESTLE analysis to help identify factors
The internal factors may be viewed as strengths or weaknesses depending upon their impact on the organization’s objectives. What may represent strengths with respect to one objective may be weaknesses for another objective. The factors may include all of the 4P’s; as well as personnel, finance, manufacturing capabilities, and so on. The external factors may include macroeconomic matters, technological change, legislation, and socio-cultural changes, as well as changes in the marketplace or competitive position. The results are often presented in the form of a matrix.
SWOT analysis is just one method of categorization and has its own weaknesses. For example, it may tend to persuade companies to compile lists rather than think about what is actually important in achieving objectives. It also presents the resulting lists uncritically and without clear prioritization so that, for example, weak opportunities may appear to balance strong threats.
It is prudent not to eliminate too quickly any candidate SWOT entry. The importance of individual SWOTs will be revealed by the value of the strategies it generates. A SWOT item that produces valuable strategies is important. A SWOT item that generates no strategies is not important.
Use of SWOT Analysis
The usefulness of SWOT analysis is not limited to profit-seeking organizations. SWOT analysis may be used in any decision-making situation when a desired end-state (objective) has been defined. Examples include: non-profit organizations, governmental units, and individuals. SWOT analysis may also be used in pre-crisis planning and preventive crisis management. SWOT analysis may also be used in creating a recommendation during a viability study/survey.
As part of the development of strategies and plans to enable the organization to achieve its objectives, then that organization will use a systematic/rigorous process known as corporate planning. SWOT alongside PEST/PESTLE can be used as a basis for the analysis of business and environmental factors.
Set objectives – defining what the organization is going to do
Environmental scanning Internal appraisals of the organization’s SWOT, this needs to include an assessment of the present situation as well as a portfolio of products/services and an analysis of the product/service life cycle
Analysis of existing strategies, this should determine relevance from the results of an internal/external appraisal. This may include gap analysis which will look at environmental factors
Strategic Issues defined – key factors in the development of a corporate plan which needs to be addressed by the organization
Develop new/revised strategies – revised analysis of strategic issues may mean the objectives need to change
Establish critical success factors – the achievement of objectives and strategy implementation
Preparation of operational, resource, projects plans for strategy implementation
Monitoring results – mapping against plans, taking corrective action which may mean amending objectives/strategies.