When planning for the future, the only thing you know for certain is your plans will be wrong. The future is uncertain. Tools that help focus priorities in a future full of risks and possibilities can be highly valuable for shaping an organization’s future. At Nexight, we provide strategic planning and roadmapping services that can help navigate such planning challenges, but these processes may often take more time and resources than an organization has available.
That’s why we also often conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis, which can help jumpstart strategic planning in as little as a single day. By helping stakeholders identify their strengths, potential opportunities, key weaknesses, and both internal and external threats, SWOT analyses increase the likelihood that an organization will build a plan that achieves its goals.
Value of a SWOT Analysis
While working at Stanford University in the 1960s, Albert S. Humphrey originated the SWOT analysis as a way to frame strategic planning. Since that time, SWOT analysis has gained widespread acceptance as a planning tool that can be used to quickly launch an organization’s strategic planning efforts while also engaging key stakeholders in the process.
Done correctly, SWOT analysis forces an organization to carefully assess and challenge its existing vision, mission, and goals from both an internal and external perspective. The process provides a foundation for producing a tangible plan of action designed to capture new opportunities and build on strengths, while acknowledging and addressing obstacles.
Nexight’s 7-Step SWOT Analysis Process
At Nexight, we have established a seven-step process for conducting SWOT analyses that can be tailored to individual client needs. For each engagement, a highly experienced, neutral facilitator leads the following process, working closely with a stakeholder group created by our clients:
1) Review and refine existing organization vision, mission, and goals.
These elements form important boundaries and frameworks for the SWOT analysis. Interestingly, while we start here, many organizations revisit their vision, mission, and goals at the end of the SWOT analysis process, creating a “full circle” approach to strategic planning.
2) Brainstorm strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
This step can be accomplished during an in-person or virtual facilitated session, asynchronously and anonymously using online tools, or via one-on-one conversations with stakeholders. The goal is to obtain objective, unbiased, and honest assessment of each SWOT element.
3) Vote and rank views to assess relative priority.
Often, the brainstorming results are overwhelming or too disparate to inform action. Identifying priorities in each quadrant of your SWOT analysis provides focus. It is essential to define criteria for prioritization and use voting methods that minimize bias (e.g., via blind electronic voting).
4) Brainstorm potential actions to address high-priority needs.
Needs may be in any or all the strength, weakness, opportunity, or threat categories. However, it is not essential to build plans of action in each category. Some organizations operate from a position of strength and prefer to focus resources on leveraging clear strategic advantages. Other organizations face emerging threats or competitors that merit direct response.
5) Combine similar actions and vote on priorities.
We again must prioritize actions in recognition that all organizations are resource-limited. Voting criteria may emphasize urgency, long-term importance, magnitude of effort, and other factors.
6) Discuss and agree on high-priority actions.
It is essential to separate voting from decision-making. Prioritization voting is meant to inform decisions, not make decisions. The best teams review voting results and then discuss and come to consensus on which high-priority actions they can commit to achieving in a defined timeframe. Often, required resources are also identified for each selected action.
7) Produce an action plan with next steps for addressing high-priority items.
We find it is essential to clearly and concisely document SWOT analyses for reference later. Strategic action is always challenged by the many day-to-day requests. A clear, compelling, documented SWOT analysis can help re-prioritize time, effort, and resources to achieve the goals.