Remember SWOT analysis? The framework that focuses on a business’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats has been the darling of business school textbooks the world over for some time. But not everyone’s so positive about it.
In our research for the State of SWOT Report, we found people who disliked almost every aspect of SWOT analysis. These folks consider SWOT a “waste of time”, only turning to it (with an accompanying eye roll 🙄) when it’s requested from a more senior member of the team.
So does that mean SWOT analysis is outdated? A relic of the past, unsuitable for use in “modern” businesses?
Our findings suggest quite the opposite.
Modern attitudes towards SWOT analysis
So, how do our findings suggest SWOT’s relevance today?
Most still appreciate SWOT
1. Many practitioners perform SWOT frequently:
Almost 50% of all respondents to our State of SWOT survey had performed at least one SWOT analysis in the last two months. This suggests that SWOT is, at the very least, being performed semi-regularly by many practitioners.
2. The majority of SWOT analyses are considered more successful than not:
58.3% of respondents voted the success of their most recent SWOT analysis as at least a three on a scale from zero to five, indicating that the majority of SWOT analyses performed were more successful than not.
3. Half of all respondents consider SWOT “very important” in achieving longer-term business goals.
Exactly 50% of all respondents judged SWOT as being at least a four out of five in terms of its ability to contribute towards the success of their org’s longer-term goals, with an overwhelming 78.6% of respondents judging SWOT at at least a three out of five for the same metric.
Surprise: not everyone loves SWOT analysis
Numbers don’t lie. But the numbers above don’t mean we saw a landslide vote in favor of SWOT analysis. Our survey-takers’ comments suggested much more mixed sentiment towards SWOT analysis.
When asked what they predicted for the future of SWOT analysis, opposing points of view were clear. Comments that SWOT, “will not be used by future generations,” were followed immediately by “[SWOT] will survive further work generations.”
One respondent’s judgment that “[SWOT is] an obsolete model,” was followed not too long afterward by an opinion that SWOT “will always be helpful for analysis of markets and competitors.”
Some reported doubts about “a coming increase in adoption,” while others expressed wishes that “hopefully it stays the same!”
And more practical comments around SWOT’s use ranged from appreciative, “[SWOT] should be a foundational asset that is updated routinely and part of the PMM foundational knowledge hub,” to derisive, “It's not going to be used in serious settings…”
While comments were mixed, the numbers still suggest most voted in favor of SWOT analysis, its usefulness in business today, and its importance in helping businesses reach their longer-term goals.
State of SWOT Report
Download your copy to learn...
- The five top challenges you face performing SWOT, and how to solve them.
- The best ways to measure success or failure post-SWOT.
- Whether SWOT is falling out of favor in modern businesses.
- The best alternative frameworks and how they compare with SWOT.
- The future of SWOT analysis.
What are the criticisms of SWOT analysis?
SWOT analysis isn’t without its criticisms.
Our research found a few recurring criticisms of SWOT analysis as a framework.
- SWOT tends to oversimplify complex use cases.
- SWOT is insufficient in isolation, and needs further work, or to be combined with other frameworks, to uncover strategic actions and next steps.
- SWOT seems to be prone to internal bias and blind spots.
- SWOT is time-consuming enough to be of dubious return on investment for practitioners in rapidly changing industries.
So SWOT isn’t perfect. But does that mean it’s outdated, and should be cast out? Competitive Intelligence Consultant, Nishant John, argues that it shouldn’t. He accepts SWOT’s utility, as well as its limitations, combining it with other frameworks to get the best of both worlds:
- Nishant John, Competitive Intelligence Consultant and Certified Strategist
Is SOAR better than SWOT?
As noted above, SWOT isn’t enough on its own. This was a recurring criticism, so we asked survey-takers which alternative analysis frameworks they found most useful – either as straight replacements for SWOT analysis, or in conjunction with it to cover some of its shortcomings.
SOAR was mentioned multiple times, so we were curious as to why.
In case you’re unfamiliar, SOAR analysis takes the Strengths and Opportunities from SWOT and adds two other points of consideration: Aspirations and Responses.
The first, “Aspirations”, draws your attention to your org’s goals. Where does your leadership team want the business to be in a year, three years, or five years? These aspirations will guide you in prioritizing the market opportunities open to you.
The second, “Responses”, directly addresses another of SWOT’s key criticisms: that it doesn’t directly lead to actionable outcomes. By forcing you to figure out what actions you’re going to take as a result of your analysis, SOAR is arguably more practical than SWOT analysis.
But can it directly replace it? 🤔
Few of our respondents thought any framework could ever entirely replace SWOT analysis – just 13.4%, while 76.4% of survey-takers disagreed, saying instead that no framework could replace SWOT.
Perhaps SWOT analysis is too foundational to be replaced. Deep consideration of your strengths and weaknesses, those of competitors, and resulting opportunities and threats, is a core part of any business strategy. Whether you call it SWOT analysis, competitive opportunity analysis, or something else, is up to you. But the four key elements of SWOT analysis remain essential.
Has anything replaced SWOT analysis?
For practical reasons, it’s clear practitioners don’t like to use SWOT analysis alone when they build a strategic plan. Solid plans involve other frameworks, or at the very least go further than SWOT analysis allows by default.
The frameworks respondents had the best success with were:
- Porter’s Five Forces
- PESTLE Analysis
- Win/Loss Analysis
The vast majority of survey-takers reported using at least one other framework alongside SWOT analysis. Interestingly, the three most-voted frameworks listed above all focus heavily on external factors: the market, customers, and even technological and environmental factors. This makes sense, given how many criticize SWOT for its susceptibility to internal bias, since frameworks focusing on external factors expose and compensate for internal biases and blind spots.
SWOT has its shortcomings, but smart practitioners consider SWOT as just a first step when creating a strategic plan. They go further, combining SWOT with other frameworks, like SOAR analysis, or Porter’s Five Forces, to get to an actionable outcome while controlling for biases and blind spots.
Psst – want the full story? Download the full report below. 👇
Download the State of SWOT Report
We had far more questions about SWOT analysis for our survey-takers.
🎯 Which SWOT applications offer the best ROI?
👍 How do you measure the success or failure of a SWOT analysis?
🔮 What does the future hold for SWOT analysis? And how do you overcome its inherent challenges?
Want to dig deeper into the reasons why modern attitudes towards SWOT are the way they are? Want to read the real comments and opinions of practitioners to learn how to improve your own application of strategic frameworks in your business?
Grab your no-cost copy of the report today and upgrade your competitive intelligence toolkit. 🧰