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?