SWOT ANALYSIS: An Important Tool for Strategic Planning Assignment 2

Dr David Smawfield, August 2007 – 1
SWOT ANALYSIS: An Important Tool
for Strategic Planning
A SWOT Analysis Explained
Examples of SWOT workshop activity
The word “SWOT” stands
(in English) for four words:
S = Strengths (strong points) W= Weaknesses (weak points) O = Opportunities
T = Threats
Dr David Smawfield, August 2007 – 2 –
A SWOT Analysis uses a grid of four squares set out like this:
For workshop purposes, the grid should be drawn large: e.g. filling the whole of a
sheet of a flip chart.
Dr David Smawfield, August 2007 – 3 –
To help clarify the differences between “Strengths” and “Opportunities” and
“Weaknesses” and “Threats”, the following observations might be helpful:
• Strengths and Weaknesses tend to describe the PRESENT situation.
• Strengths and Weaknesses are typically INTERNAL to whatever is being
• Opportunities and Threats tend to describe the immediate FUTURE.
• Opportunities and Threats are typically EXTERNAL to whatever is being
analysed (but they can also include internal factors).
• Strengths and Opportunities are POSITIVE factors.
• Weaknesses and Threats are NEGATIVE factors.
These characteristics are summarised in the following diagram:
+ –
Present Internal
(strong points) Weaknesses:
(weak points)
Future External
Opportunities: Threats:
Dr David Smawfield, August 2007 – 4 –
The grid is used to analyse a chosen topic.
The following are examples of suitable topics. A SWOT Analysis of one of the
School and Community Relationships
School Management Practices
The Use of School Grounds
Teaching Quality in the Classroom
Student Behaviour
Student Motivation
Of course, choose another topic if this is of more interest and relevance!
Size of Groups:
The size of groups used for SWOT analysis can be varied to suit particular
circumstances. Usually, however, groups of about 5 or 6 people work best.
Everyone will be involved and it is easy to generate lively discussion. One of the
strengths of a SWOT Analysis, especially if it is a workshop activity, is that it
does encourage everyone to participate.
In other words, if you are conducting a SWOT Analysis in a workshop of 30
people, it will probably best to divide the participants into 5 or 6 groups. Each
group can do its own SWOT Analysis. Later, if wished, their results can be
compared and similarities and differences discussed.
SWOT Stage 1:
Workshop participants are provided with “post-its”. They brainstorm and try to
identify the “strengths”, “weaknesses”, “opportunities” and “threats” – for
example, for “Meeting the Learning Needs of All Students”.
Individual participants write down on “post-its” the “weaknesses”, “strengths”,
“opportunities” and “threats” they can think of, one at a time. One “post-it” is
used for each “strength”, “weakness”, “opportunity” and “threat” identified.
“Post-its” can be placed in the relevant squares in any order.
One of the reasons this kind of brainstorming is effective is that something one
person says or suggests will often stimulate or remind someone else of
Dr David Smawfield, August 2007 – 5 –
something additional. The workshop facilitator, therefore, should encourage
participants to take note of each other’s “post-its” as they are placed on the
When people begin to run out of ideas and suggestions, the first stage of the
SWOT Analysis has been completed.
SWOT Stage 2: “Clustering”
Firstly, think about cause-and-effect relationships. For example, which
weakness is caused by, or causes, another weakness? Later on, this will help us
to prioritise solutions. One problem may need to be solved before another can
be addressed.
If appropriate, readjust the position of the “post-its” to show cause-and-effect
relationships. For example, place the “cause” immediately below the “effect”.
The process of thinking about cause and effect relationships will probably
result in the need to add more “post-its”. This is to be encouraged!
Secondly, try to group some of the “post-its” together in clusters, according to
the type of “strength”, “weakness”, “opportunity”, or “threat” that they
describe. Perhaps, for example, there will be one cluster of “post-its” to do
with resource issues. There might be another cluster of “post-its” to do with
management issues. And so on. At this stage, some “post-its” could be removed
if it is decided that they say the same thing, or the wording could be refined to
consolidate two almost similar points or ideas together.
This stage of the analysis helps us to clarify and categorise different types of
issues. You may wish to make a record of this stage of the analysis, before
proceeding to Stage 3.
SWOT Stage 3:
For project design and activity planning purposes, the “weaknesses” square of
the grid is especially important. It is here that we are likely to get ideas for
appropriate activities and strategies to address weaknesses in the system.
Often the “weaknesses” square of the grid will fill up with more “post-its” than
any of the other three squares. In a perfect world, it would be nice to be able
to solve all weaknesses and problems. Unfortunately, in the real world, this is
not possible. No single project or action plan can address all issues.
Dr David Smawfield, August 2007 – 6 –
A very effective analysis that combines consideration of “how important” a
weakness is, with “how practical” it is to do something about it, can be
conducted with reference to an additional grid: Grid 2.
The “weakness” “post-its” on the original grid can be moved across onto this new
grid. Exactly where they are placed has an important new meaning. A “post-it”
placed in the extreme top-left corner of this grid (i.e. “post-it” number 1 in the
example) can be interpreted as being a weakness that is very important, but is
also easy to solve. “Post-it” number 2 in the example shows a weakness that is
just as important, but is considered slightly more difficult to address. The
weakness depicted by “post-it” number 3 in the example is “very important, but
also very difficult (perhaps impossible) to address”.
The vertical dotted line, for practical purposes, can divide the grid into
“weaknesses within the power of the project/management to address” (on the
left of the line) and “weaknesses outside of the power of the
project/management to address” (on the right hand side of the line).
Difficult Easy
1 3
Dr David Smawfield, August 2007 – 7 –
“Post-it” number 4, in the example, is of “fairly high importance”, but
participants are not sure whether it is inside or outside the power of the
project/management to do something about it. Therefore, they have placed the
“post-it” over the vertical dividing line.
The purpose of a SWOT Analysis is to help us to analyse (evaluate) a
situation, and then identify an action plan to do something to improve it.
One of the reasons Stage 3 of the SWOT Analysis so useful is that it helps us
to identify a “way forward”.
It is often good to develop an action plan by focussing on the “top-left-hand
corner” of the second grid: in other words with weaknesses that are very
important, but are not too difficult to address. By doing this, we are starting
with, and agreeing upon, things we believe can be done! We are identifying a
“way forward”. We are not getting bogged down with problems that are too
If wished, Stage 3 of the SWOT Analysis can also be used for further analysis
of “strengths”, “opportunities” and “threats”. For example, this would allow us
to identify the “most important and practical strengths” that we can draw upon
in mapping a way forward.
Again, you may wish to keep a record of the results of Stage 3, before moving
on to Stage 4.
SWOT Analysis Stage 4
To bring us closer to developing an action plan, SWOT Analysis Stage 4 is a very
simple, but very important, stage.
It involves taking a “weakness statement” (a negative statement) and
reformulating it as an “objective statement” (a positive statement).
Use this process to reformulate the weaknesses that you believe it is within the
power of the project/management to address.
You now have the basis for an action plan! If there are too many objectives to
address, select the ones with the greatest importance!
Dr David Smawfield, August 2007 – 8 –
SWOT Analysis Stage 5
This Stage of the SWOT Analysis concentrates on the “Threats” identified.
SWOT Analysis Stage 5 involves a “Risk Analysis”.
Another Grid is required, as shown below: Grid 3.
The grid has been colour coded (like traffic lights). For “threats” in the green
area of the grid, “go ahead”: the threats can be ignored. They are not
important enough to worry about.
For threats in the two yellow areas of the grid: “proceed with caution”. These
threats are important enough to demand further attention. Monitor or manage
these threats and, if possible, adjust activities and objectives to remove the
threats or reduce the risks associated with them.
Threats that fall in the red area of the grid are known as “killer threats”. You
may need to “Stop!” and think again. Consider redesigning your action plan to
remove the threat or substantially reduce its importance or probability of
causing failure.
Low probability
of threat
probability of
threat occurring.
Dr David Smawfield, August 2007 – 9 –
SWOT Analysis Stage 6:
There is an underlying “logic” to the four squares of the “SWOT” grid, which
can be summarised as follows:
• The “weaknesses” identified help us to develop possible activities and
strategies suitable for a project or action plan.
• We should than try to consider how we can build on the “strengths”
and “opportunities” we have identified to increase our chances of
• We also need to take important note of the “threats” we have
identified. We need to consider how we might be able to design
activities to avoid these threats or minimise the risks associated with
them. Another strategy might be to design activities that address
these threats directly: to remove or limit them.
What remains, therefore, is for us to go back to the “strengths” and
“opportunities” we have identified, and see if we can come up with practical
suggestions for building on these. This represents Stage 6. As a result of
Stage 6 of the Analysis, we may see the need to modify the activities that we
have provisionally identified to take full advantage of strengths and
• The purpose of a SWOT Analysis is to help us to analyse (evaluate) a
situation, and then identify an action plan to do something to improve it.
• A SWOT Analysis helps us to focus on what is possible, rather than on
what is impossible.
• Because a SWOT analysis is a participative activity, it is good for building
consensus: where everyone is agreed upon, and committed to, a practical
way forward for making things better.
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