What is SWOT

From apppm
Jump to: navigation, search



This article will be presenting the tool SWOT and the main points of SWOT will be covered alongside with an introduction on how to apply SWOT. Moreover, the strength and weaknesses of this tool will also be presented so it can be taken into consideration when using the tool. SWOT can be applied in many different areas in project management, whether it is business strategy or market research but is especially used within marketing.[1] Much of the original groundwork for what is known as SWOT today, was already established more than 50 years ago. A man name Kurt Lewin, his landmark posthumous text, called; Field Theory in Social Science, emphasized that an organization’s desires are influenced by different driving forces or enhancers and limitations and inhibitors. Many companies when facing a problem whether it is external or internal, by using SWOT they can create a quick overview of what your obstacles you need to overcome and what chances there are to take. SWOT is four initials standing for four different elements, where the elements are used to identify different perspectives of consequences. They each stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The first two factors, Strengths and Weaknesses are factors for the internal, typically when you are inside a company, you will look within to see what kind of Strengths you have and what kind of Weaknesses you have. Then there are Opportunities and Threats, which are external factors, so you look from internal to external. Opportunities help to identify chances there are to grow, expand and even more potential of a blue ocean and Threats are what kind of competitors are there, restrains, regulations. More details about this subject will be seen down below.

A brief history of SWOT

Earlier it was mentioned that the original groundwork was laid by Lewin, but around the same time there were two professors from Harvard, George Albert Smith Jr. and C. Roland Christensen, who also were interested in the related issue about identifying the extent of the correlation of the organization’s strategy and its competitive environment. Therefore, they instructed their students to address if a company took into account the requirements of a competitive environments. Around a decade later another professor from the same university wanted to see the already by then named SWOT, if it could be used to explore the ways in which competitive thinking influences business strategies.[2]

Introduction to SWOT

SWOT is a strategic analytical tool, for assessing strengths and weaknesses of a business, and also for analyzing opportunities available to the business as well as threats faced by the business. SWOT can also be used for personal purposes or when managing a project.

As mentioned S.W.O.T are initials to different words, each letter stands for something different, with each one of them having their very own purpose, where they together create a very strong foundation for an analysis, whatever the purpose is for. SWOT analysis is processed by a group of stakeholders, where they:

1. Identify internal and external obstacles and enhancers of performance

2. Analyse those factors, which are basted on estimates of their contribution to the net value and how much they are controllable

3. To decide what further or future actions to take regarding those factors

But what do they stand for?[3]

  • S – Strengths – Refers to internal competencies, valuables resources or attributes
  • W - Weaknesses – Refers to internal inhibitors of the competencies, resources or attributes
  • O - Opportunities – Refers to external enhancer of performance, which can be pursued or used
  • T - Threats – An external inhibitor of performance that has the potential to reduce accomplishments.

Now that we know what SWOT stands for, but how does one go around about them? There are some questions to get it started [4].


  • What are we best at?
  • What intellectual property do we own that can help us with this objective?
  • What specific skills does the current workforce have that can contribute to this objective?
  • What financial resources do we have for reaching this objective?
  • What connections and alliances do we have?
  • What is our bargaining power with both suppliers and intermediaries?


  • What are we worst at doing?
  • Is our intellectual property outdated?
  • What training does our workforce lack?
  • What is our financial position?
  • What connections and alliances should we have, but don’t?


  • What changes in the external environment can we exploit?
  • What weaknesses in our competitors can we use to our advantage?
  • What new technology might become available to us?
  • What new markets might be opening to us?


  • What might our competitors be able to do to hurt us?
  • What new legislation might damage our interests?
  • What social changes might threaten us?
  • How will the economic cycle affect us?

Naturally, there are a lot more questions that can be asked, but these questions for each of the elements, are good starting points. These questions will help you get started on doing the SWOT. Remember, it is always a good idea to do SWOT in the early stages, because it gives you a detailed overview and gives you information, which you can use for your later processes in decision making and planning.[5]

Visually the SWOT can be shown as this:


The 4x4 Matrix[6]

How to conduct SWOT

There are no doubt a couple of ways to conduct SWOT, the one which is more of a practical method, a guide on how to fill in the SWOT[7], may be a good place to start.

1. Determine the object: Which means to decide on a key project or a strategy, where you want to analyse. Write the name of it on the top of a page.

2. Draw the layout: Draw a very large square box and then divide it into four smaller boxes

3. Put name inside each of the boxes on the top: The top left box write; Strengths, the one beside write; Weaknesses. The box under Weaknesses, write Threats and the last one Opportunity, it should look like the figure earlier (Figure). If you wish a more detailed layout, you can add a smaller box that outlines Strengths and Weaknesses as “Internal” and Opportunities and Threats as “External”, and “Helpful” for Strengths and Opportunities, where Weaknesses and Threats will have a “Harmful” outline.

4. Add the factors: Add the factors that affects the project in the different boxes.

5. Draw conclusions: Decide if the project is a go or a no-go based on the negative and positive relative. Maybe you are already on a project, but want to see how the situation is, then you need to decide what to do about the information you got out of SWOT.

According to the Myriad guideline[8], there exist a way to conduct SWOT, in a bit of a different manner.

1. Recruiting stakeholders: This phase’s idea is simply to try to include your stakeholders. According to the book; Exploring Corporate Strategy by Gerry Johnson, Kevan Scholes and Richard Whittington, you can map your stakeholders according to their interest in a project. If you google “Power-interest matrix”, you can see how you should approach your stakeholders in relative to “Interest” and “Power”

2. Convening the focus group: This step is to call in the stakeholders, most optimal from 8-48, and explain to them what the SWOT is, and how this little workshop is going to work. The first step is to divide the stakeholders into smaller group, where the idea is to get a well-rounded SWOT, where the stakeholders also can agree on the factors. Of course, the preparations are supposed to be made beforehand, such as already made SWOT figures.

3. Identifying and categorizing SWOTs: Now when the stakeholders are in the groups, they should start to work on the SWOT.

4. Analyzing SWOTs: In “Handbook of Improving performance in the Workplace” Volume 2[9], there is a figure showing, on how they are analyzing the SWOT factors within a Construction Company. Similar should be done. Hereafter, two additional questions should be asked:

  • To what degree is each factor internally or externally controlled?
  • To what degree is each factor an enhancer or an inhibitor of performance?

Where after you put the factors for Strengths, Weaknesses, Threats according to in “Handbook of Improving performance in the Workplace”[10], to rank with numbers from 1-5 how much it is under your control and for enhancers and inhibitors.

5. Synthesizing SWOTs: After the previous step, now the data can be collected, and the data can be shown visually, there is an example in the “Handbook of Improving performance in the Workplace”[11]

6. Interpreting findings and deliberating action: Now it is the time to decide upon, which and how to act upon the findings. There are a few actions to take according to what the factors are. Monitor: The factors which are neither enhancer nor inhibitors. Mitigate Threats and Exploit Opportunities: Actions are to be taken, if it is seen that there are threats that will hinder the project, likewise with opportunities, it is supposed to be exploited if it will add value. Lastly, Confront Weaknesses and Leverage Strengths: Because these factors are internal, it is easier to control them, therefore strengths should be leveraged to help achieve desired results and weaknesses should be confronted. As you can see the latter option is more wholesome and no doubt more detailed, depending your situation on using SWOT. Remember these guidelines are only one of the many guidelines.

When to use SWOT

Here are just a few to show when it is applicable to use SWOT, and these mentioned components are also included in something called Human Performance Technology (HPT), which can deepen your understanding on SWOT, but it is not necessary[12]

1. In performance analysis When identifying the degree to what internal practices and external environmental influences impact how results are currently being accomplished within an organization

2. In cause analysis When finding what practices should be continued or even expanded in the longer terms, as well as those that should be discontinued or replaced by other methods or tools.

3. In strategic planning When in strategic planning and needs assessment for identifying the factors that contribute to or detract from organizational effectiveness

4. In evaluation

When monitoring the internal and external environment of a program for change over time, for tracking new SWOTs as they emerge, and for documenting for previously existing SWOTs as they become less influential on a program Besides these quite general categories within HPT practice, SWOT can also be a great to use within[13]:

  • Appreciative inquiry – To clarify the organization’s strengths and opportunities
  • Benchmarking – To identify possible opportunities and threats
  • Industry analysis – For contextualizing opportunities existing in the market
  • Situation analysis – For evaluating possible trends or ongoing trends in the markets, costs and competition and competitors
  • Scenario planning – For considering possible and preferred long-term scenarios

As seen above, these are the mentioned area where SWOT can be used.

Critical success factors

There is always some critical success factor, when using a tool and SWOT is not excluded[14]. Here are a couple of points to be aware of if you want a good SWOT:

1. Information shared by stakeholders within a SWOT analysis should never be used to play the blame game, but it should be a basis for continuous improvement

2. When conducting the weaknesses, never blame the others for faults or shortcoming, because being honest is essential

3. SWOT’s data can be collected live depending on the resources and constraints that exists

4. It may be useful to weight the experienced stakeholders’ evaluation of the SWOT’s These are some points that may be good to keep in the back of the head, when going through SWOT.

Limitations and critiques of SWOT

It is not doubt that SWOT is a very strong tool when carried out right, it can provide valuable knowledge about both customer preferences and competitors intents, and nevertheless where the possible opportunities to grow are. There are also some critiques of SWOT, such as:

  • There are no prioritization of the identified factors and it seems like it was hard to meaningfully compare the importance of one SWOT to another
  • No figuring of costs and benefits or how to use them to achieve their objectives
  • Sometimes it can be hazy on what is external and internal

And, some limitations about SWOT:

  • It does not help determine the costs and benefits of alternative performance solutions
  • It does not rank the factors according to their criticality
  • It provides minimal information regarding the degree to which an organization or work team possess influence over the factors that have been identified.

Despite all these, it is possibly to enhance SWOT to its further usability by considering 2 factors

1. Approximations of the degree which an organization can control over each factor

2. Estimate the costs and benefits of the factors.

And turn them into questions for better decision, by asking:

  • How much control does the organization have over each SWOT factor?
  • How much does each SWOT factor cost or benefit the organization?

By using the above two questions in SWOT, it will further enhance SWOTs usability[15]


This article has served its purpose, to introduce you to the tool SWOT, where the article has gone through the main points of SWOT, but have only scratched the surface. If you want to research more about SWOT, you should be more than welcome to do so, but this article has given you a good starting point. SWOT is an amazing tool to use in various areas or projects, does not matter if you want to use it for personal or professional purpose. Although, SWOT is a very widely used tool, it does have its own flaws and limitations, but it is a tool which has been used numerous times all over again worldwide, in all kinds of industries and professionals. Therefore, if you can master the tool and make up for its mentioned shortcomings with the questions that will cover its limitations to a maximum, it will be an incredible tool which is very valuable for your project or business.


  1. https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.proxy.findit.dtu.dk/doi/pdf/10.1002/9780470592663.ch24
  2. Handbook of Improving Human Performance Technology Third Edition Principles, Practices, and Potential, James A. Pershing Editor Foreword by Harold D. Stolovitch and Erica J. Keeps
  3. https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.proxy.findit.dtu.dk/doi/pdf/10.1002/9780470592663.ch24
  4. https://www.professionalacademy.com/blogs-and-advice/marketing-theories---swot-analysis
  5. https://www.professionalacademy.com/blogs-and-advice/marketing-theories---swot-analysis
  6. https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.proxy.findit.dtu.dk/doi/pdf/10.1002/9780470592663.ch24
  7. https://www.smartdraw.com/swot-analysis/
  8. https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.proxy.findit.dtu.dk/doi/pdf/10.1002/9780470592663.ch24
  9. https://www.professionalacademy.com/blogs-and-advice/marketing-theories---swot-analysis
  10. Handbook of Improving Human Performance Technology Third Edition Principles, Practices, and Potential, James A. Pershing Editor Foreword by Harold D. Stolovitch and Erica J. Keeps
  11. Handbook of Improving Human Performance Technology Third Edition Principles, Practices, and Potential, James A. Pershing Editor Foreword by Harold D. Stolovitch and Erica J. Keeps
  12. Handbook of Improving Human Performance Technology Third Edition Principles, Practices, and Potential, James A. Pershing Editor Foreword by Harold D. Stolovitch and Erica J. Keeps
  13. https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.proxy.findit.dtu.dk/doi/pdf/10.1002/9780470592663.ch24
  14. https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.proxy.findit.dtu.dk/doi/pdf/10.1002/9780470592663.ch24
  15. https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.proxy.findit.dtu.dk/doi/pdf/10.1002/9780470592663.ch24
Personal tools