THE DECISION MAKER

A framework that was created in the 1960s to assist in making sound business decisions still has great impact today. Women UK Online explains SWOT Analysis

SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis is a framework for identifying and analysing the internal and external factors that can have an impact on the viability of a project, product, place or person. Used for both business and indeed personal decisions, this matrix can often aid decisions.

The framework is credited to Albert Humphrey, who tested the approach in 1960s and 1970s at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). Developed for business and based on data from Fortune 500 companies, the SWOT analysis has been adopted by organisations of all types as an aid to making decisions.

As its name states, a SWOT analysis examines four elements:

  • Strengths – internal attributes and resources that support a successful outcome.
  • Weaknesses – internal attributes resources that work against a successful outcome.
  • Opportunities – external factors the project can capitalize on or use to its advantage.
  • Threats – external factors that could jeopardize the project.

Strengths and weaknesses are often internal to your organization, while opportunities and threats generally relate to external factors. For this reason, SWOT is sometimes called Internal-External Analysis and the SWOT Matrix is sometimes called an IE Matrix.

Strengths

What advantages does your organisation have?

  • What do you do better than anyone else?
  • What unique or lowest-cost resources can you draw upon that others can’t?
  • What do people in your market see as your strengths?
  • What factors mean that you ‘get the sale’?
  • What is your organisation’s Unique Selling Proposition  (USP)?

Consider your strengths from both an internal perspective and from the point of view of your customers and people in your market. Also, if you’re having any difficulty identifying strengths, try writing down a list of your organisation’s characteristics. Some of these will hopefully be strengths!

When looking at your strengths, think about them in relation to your competitors. For example, if all of your competitors provide high quality products, then a high quality production process is not a strength in your organisation’s market, it’s a necessity.

Weaknesses

  • What could you improve?
  • What should you avoid?
  • What are people in your market likely to see as weaknesses?
  • What factors lose you sales?

Again, consider this from an internal and external basis: Do other people seem to perceive weaknesses that you don’t see? Are your competitors doing any better than you?

It’s best to be realistic now and face any unpleasant truths as soon as possible.

Opportunities

  • What good opportunities can you spot?
  • What interesting trends are you aware of?

Useful opportunities can come from such things as:

  • Changes in technology and markets on both a broad and narrow scale.
  • Changes in government policy related to your field.
  • Changes in social patterns, population profiles, lifestyle changes, and so on.
  • Local events.

A useful approach when looking at opportunities is to look at your strengths and ask yourself whether these open up any opportunities. Alternatively, look at your weaknesses and ask yourself whether you could open up opportunities by eliminating them.

Threats

  • What obstacles do you face?
  • What are your competitors doing?
  • Are quality standards or specifications for your job, products or services changing?
  • Is changing technology threatening your position?
  • Do you have bad debt or cash-flow problems?
  • Could any of your weaknesses seriously threaten your business?

Look at any government regulation that may be coming into force or any new competitors coming into your area of the market. This is a very useful area to look at what is outside of your control.

Using SWOT can really help any decision maker within your business to evaluate both where the company stands and also direction for any decisions within the business that needs to be made. Try it out!

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