Best Practices for Moderating a SWOT Analysis

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Categories: planning, risk management, swot

By Marian Haus, PMP

The SWOT framework is a very useful analytical tool for identifying risks and opportunities. It can be used across industries and in a range of scenarios, from project planning and risk management to strategic business and corporate planning.

When used in project management, SWOT can help capture internal project aspects (strengths and weaknesses), as well as the external aspects (opportunities and threats) that can positively or negatively influence the project.

Here are four steps for preparing and moderating a two-hour SWOT session:

1. WHAT: Explain what SWOT is, elucidating each of the four terms and giving some examples of each. For instance:

  • Strength might be the technical skills of the project team.
  • Weakness might be the team’s limited experience with the type of project you are conducting.
  • Opportunity might be a favorable technology trend that your team can leverage.
  • Threat might be hardened regulatory conditions in which the project is conducted.

It’s important to highlight that strengths and weaknesses are characteristics internal to the project, while opportunities and threats are external.

From the very beginning, it’s equally important to define what goal you’ll be assessing under the SWOT framework. This will narrow the focus from generic to articulated obstacles and prospects that can hinder or support reaching your goal.

For this part, allocate a time-box of 15 minutes from the total two-hour session.

2. HOW: Now that everyone knows what SWOT is, explain how the analysis will be conducted.

You’ll need to prepare in advance. First, get a whiteboard and draw a simple SWOT matrix, with a quadrant for each attribute (S, W, O and T). Highlight that “S” and “W” are internal factors, while “O” and “T” are external.

Next, make sure you have sufficient Post-its for capturing the SWOT information. I recommend using separate colors for each attribute—this will improve the visualization of the SWOT matrix.

Allocate a time-box of five minutes for this part of the session.

3. CONDUCT: Conducting the SWOT analysis is the easiest part. Now that everyone understands the approach, engage the participants in capturing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats on the colored Post-its.

For a team of 10 people, allocate 10 minutes for capturing and 30 to 50 minutes for presenting and posting the results on the SWOT board. Each contributor should individually capture the SWOT and present the results.

4. STRATEGIZE: Now that you know the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of your project, it’s time to do something about them. There are different strategies and approaches for dealing with the SWOT outcome.

One strategy is to apply a risk management approach: Qualify the captured information by urgency and impact, and define responses for risks and exploits for opportunities.

Another strategy is to convert weaknesses and threats into strengths and opportunities.

Or you can apply the simple USED approach, by addressing the following questions:

  • How can we use our strength?
  • How can we stop our weakness?
  • How can we exploit the opportunities?
  • How can we defend from threats?

For this important part of the process, you should allocate up to 50 to 60 minutes of the session.

The SWOT analysis is a subjective assessment because the level of knowledge and state of information might vary among the attendees. Nevertheless, the outcome could help to prevent issues or exploit opportunities during your project journey.

What tips do you have for moderating a SWOT analysis?

Posted by Marian Haus on: July 09, 2017 02:57 PM | Permalink

Comments (22)

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I think the SWOT Analysis is a very important topic. From my experience the weaknesses is the most difficult for the teams, as it implies that they are not good enough. But on the other hand, weaknesses are often easy to compensate by bringing an expert in or by training. So for me it is important to get the team to acknowledge, that the most important part of the task is not to point fingers or fall in grief, but to gain clarity to be able to do something about it.

Very interesting topic, thanks for sharing

Thanks for sharing.

Too many times this discussion is a never ending discussion. I liked your idea of time boxing.
Thanks for sharing.

This brings back so many memories from my Strategic Management class in college where we would read business case studies and do a SWOT on a case a week! I have used this in the real world also working at a large Fortune 100 company. It definitely gets the thought process flowing

Thanks team for putting this together,

This is certainly great..
One of my managers used to tell me "let the SWOT reach the GOAL" and the same statement is perfectly explained here in this post..


Thanks for sharing Marian, as with many meetings time management and structure is critical in ensuring all objectives can be met.

If you have a weakness in some issue, the project could be a great opportunity to take advantage from the situation, developing abilities and capabalities, not just hiring an expert.

Some resource to share:
I hope you find helpfull

Excellent topic by Marian, I also admire the discussions, specially contribution by Sergio is highly appreciated.

SWOT analysis is a simple, yet useful analysis ( business ) tool. It can also be used to our private lives as we always have internal Strengths and Weakness and plenty of Opportunities and Threats in our environment when we aim or plan to attain our objectives.

Organizational speaking firm wide Strengthens( and weakness for that matter) can stem from two sources namely tangible sources,( machinery, technology, finance etc) and intangible ( organizational culture, leadership, teamwork etc)

I feel like everyone knows about SWOT and it's almost become a buzz word. The reason I like this blog is because it actually includes tips on HOW to use the SWOT analysis once completed. Glad to be a part of such a great blog! :)

A good overview on SWOT, thanks Marian.

Thank you Marian for this clear picture and understanding.

Great article and I have learn a lot.

I usually move the Opportunities and Threats to my Risk Register so they can be properly managed.

What would you suggest a project manager do with the Strengths and Weaknesses, Marian?

@Stéphane it depends on culture of the organization you are in or of nature of the project you are managing. There are company cultures that are focusing on strengthening the strengths and addressing weaknesses by bringing them to a minimal level of acceptance (baseline).
I recommend actively using and growing the strengths and monitoring the weaknesses before they become risks.

Would you see that as part of each and every project, Marian? It seems a bit of a stretch for a typical project.

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