SWOT Analysis – The Right Way

It’s important to take a deep breath. To stop for a moment and reflect on your experience and make a decision of where you want to go next. If it’s for your business, you may find this moment before meeting with investors. If it’s for your team, you may find this moment at a project milestone. And if it’s for your career, you may find this moment when you start to think about updating your resume. The retrospective is how you retell your story to lead into another day.


On a sizable project of multiple teams that stretched across the United States, I held a retrospective once we reached a milestone. I hade the stakeholders, my team, other teams, and the vendor on the hour-long call. The call was as much a celebration of accomplishment as it was lessons learned. And a half-hour after the call I sent an email to everyone about what we had achieved and our next steps. Behind the scene, I used a five-minute SWOT Analysis to organize my thoughts for the email.

SWOT Analysis is a useful tool for guiding your business, team, and career. It’s a filter to continually update your strategy and keep it relevant to the ever-changing world. By looking at the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, you have the awareness to make prudent decisions.

The problem most have with SWOT Analysis is they make it bigger than what’s to be done and limit it to a diagram of SWOT without any real analysis. There is more to SWOT Analysis than making lists. If you understand the process, then you can apply it to most anything where you ask yourself: “What’s next?”

  1. A Worldview (Weltanschauung). How do you describe the world and your place in it? This is the sort of thing you start a discussion with people to describe the world and your business’, team’s, or personal value proposition. Ideally, you want to put this sort of discussion in the emotional context of a story.
  2. A Strategy. For the SWOT to have meaning, it must have context. I use a one-page strategy as a concise way to summarize the current direction and approach in terms of Mission (ends), Goals (ways), and Objectives (means).
  3. List SWOT Items. The important distinction is that Strengths and Weaknesses relate to what can or cannot be done (internal), and the Opportunities and Threats is the situation (external). This has a person versus the world theme. Strengths and Opportunities benefit your strategy, while Weaknesses and Threats block it — group comparable items into broader themes.
  4. Analyze SWOT Items. Listing SWOT on its own is meaningless. You need to compare and contrast the Strengths and Weaknesses against the Opportunities and Threats to formulate strategies. Put this into a 2×2 matrix with Strengths and Opportunities in the upper-right corner, and Threats and Weaknesses in the lower-left corner.
  5. Create Courses of Action (COAs). After performing the analysis, you will want to identify specific and actionable things to maximize potential. Ask yourself how to eliminate Threats-Weaknesses, and put more energy on Strengths-Opportunities. Make a to-do list of ways to close Threats-Strengths, while following-up with brainstorming on how to address Opportunities-Weaknesses.
  6. Prioritize COAs. You cannot do all things at once. Prioritize your COAs and sequence on dependencies. Make a roadmap that puts the quick-wins up-front and plans out the long-range COAs that require more elaboration.

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