Using SWOT Analysis To Improve Planning, Action and Decision-Making

Image by Xhienne, courtesy of Creative Commons
Are you familiar with SWOT analysis? It’s been a while since I’ve heard someone use the term. At one time, it was quite the buzz-word in strategic planning. Of course, “strategic planning” was also a popular term for a while, but not so much right now.

It’s not that strategic planning and analyses aren’t done. It’s just that there are constantly new “meta” concepts that encompass them. Putting aside whatever the new management consultant fad terms and concepts are, SWOT is an acronym for a process of analyzing an undertaking of any sort by looking at Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

It’s a very simple and helpful tool.

When I first ran across the term, I used it for my clients in psychotherapy. It was very handy in working out what was going on in relationships. So, I’m going to give you an example of how I used it to help a young woman figure out what she wanted to do about her affair with a married man. Here’s the way she worked it out:

Strengths of the relationship: Kind, loving man. Good companionship. Many shared interests. Emotionally and financially supportive.

Weaknesses: Partner committed to another. Partner’s time, attention and affections are split. Unlikely that partner will leave current family. Unlikely that partner will want children from affair. Affairs are temporary in nature.

Opportunities: Continued affair brings emotional satisfaction. Continued affair prevents loneliness. Continued affair provides financial support beyond current earning ability.

Threats: If caught, partner can lose family. If caught, both reputations can be damaged at work. If caught, both can lose jobs. Even if not caught, there is considerable worry and strain. The temporary nature of affairs is a constant heartache. The longer the financial support, the longer the procrastination in developing better skills and employment. The longer the affair, the longer and deeper the dependency.

How hard is it to see what the decision must be, based on such an analysis. My client called a halt to the affair. She also found a better job elsewhere. Later, she found love with someone who could be committed to her.

SWOT analysis is easy to do and applies to any endeavor in any field. It was designed for business. But, you can see it would work in science, engineering, medical decisions or just about anywhere else you might want to apply it.

Let’s bring SWOT analysis back into vogue. The below image by Xhienne through Creative Commons shows the SWOT analysis in a matrix format. Many people find using that format preferable to the list style I used above:

If you want to learn some more about it, start with the Wikipedia article: