If you’re one of those folks who hear about SWOT analysis and roll their eyes, you’re not alone. Many think SWOT analysis might be outdated entirely.
But the truth is, when you’re assessing the fitness of any project, product, service, business plan, or competitor, you can’t escape following the SWOT analysis framework. Even if you try.
Stay tuned, and we’ll discuss:
- What a SWOT analysis for project management actually is.
- The benefits of performing a SWOT analysis for your projects.
- How to conduct a SWOT analysis for your projects.
- Whether you can use SWOT to identify new projects.
- Tips for doing your own SWOT analysis.
- Examples of SWOT analysis.
🤫 Towards the end, we even include a handy SWOT analysis template.
What is a SWOT analysis in project management?
Put simply, SWOT analysis in project management is the application of SWOT analysis, as a method, to your projects. You’ll assess the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats associated with your project.
What’s the point? When it comes to managing your projects, a SWOT analysis completed early on will alert you to issues that threaten your project’s success later on. It’ll also give you an overview of the project, and anything you might need to change, before you invest time and resources putting it into action.
Earlier, we mentioned that it’s impossible to avoid doing SWOT analysis when doing comprehensive analysis.
Bold statement, right? Just try it. Any detailed, comprehensive analysis of a project’s fitness will include:
- A summary of how the project (or product, or competitor’s service, etc.) could be improved. (Weaknesses.)
- A list of things you’d want to preserve about the project (or product, etc.) if it were to undergo any changes. (Strengths.)
- An outline of the primary objectives for the project, and what you’ll get out of it if you pursue it successfully. (Opportunities.)
- An outline of what might stand in the way of those project objectives. In other words, things that might derail the project. (Threats.)
And just like that, you’ve covered the elements of SWOT. But, although it might be obvious why you'd want to perform a competitor SWOT analysis, why would you want to use a SWOT analysis when it comes to your projects?
What are the benefits of performing a SWOT analysis?
A SWOT analysis will benefit you and your projects by:
- Exposing potential difficulties and other factors that could derail the project, allowing you to control for them ahead of time.
- Getting stakeholders involved from the start – something CI experts say is crucial for stakeholder buy-in.
- Getting everyone clear on the primary objectives of the project, while giving others a chance to chip in with their own thoughts. This gives you the best possible iteration of the project.
- Giving you a concrete framework through which to objectively assess and sense-check each aspect of your project.
- Giving you more confidence in the final plan.
- Raising awareness of the project with other teams, alerting them of their future involvement, and what is likely to be required of them.
How do you conduct a SWOT analysis in project management?
To perform a SWOT analysis on one of your projects, the simple SWOT framework itself is all you need to get started.
While you could just list all the information beneath four headers, one for each element (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), the traditional method is to break those elements down into a 2x2 matrix, or grid.
Here’s a sample SWOT analysis template:
But you don’t need anything as formal or fancy as a SWOT matrix to get started. You can just list everything that comes up in your discussion below a corresponding title.
The above 2x2 grid exposes another element of SWOT analysis, though: internal and external factors. Opportunities and threats tend to factor in from outside the project itself. Strengths and weaknesses, on the other hand, tend to be related to the nature of the project. Change the project itself to change its strengths and weaknesses. External factors, like threats, need to be brought to light and controlled for separately.
Can a SWOT analysis be used to help identify potential projects?
Choosing between projects
So let’s say you’ve got a list of potential projects. Could you use SWOT analysis to choose which is the best strategic fit for your organization?
You certainly could.
Running a SWOT analysis on each project will show you:
- Which projects you stand most to gain by pursuing.
- The projects most at risk of getting derailed by factors you may or may not be able to control for ahead of time.
- Which projects are plagued by weaknesses, and which are bolstered by many strengths.
Improving recurring projects
You could also run a SWOT analysis on past projects or marketing campaigns to get a sense of what worked well, and what could be improved going into a new project with similar objectives.
Identifying new projects
But what if you’re stuck for ideas, or are presented with a less-than-inspiring list of projects you’re not convinced will move the needle?
A SWOT analysis could help here, too. In this instance, though, you’d want to run your SWOT analysis on a particular product or service you feel could do with some improvements. This will give you specific insights into which products need an update, and what exactly those improvements might look like.
With those insights collected, you’ll be well-placed to put together an improvement roadmap for that product. Just remember to run a SWOT analysis on the project itself before rolling it out.
5 practical tips for performing a SWOT analysis in project management
Think this all sounds a little too theoretical? Here are some practical tips to see you through your next SWOT analysis:
- Don’t go it alone. Any project worth the time you’ll be putting into it will consist of many moving parts. For best results, you’ll need to involve others. Choose representatives from each stakeholder group, and don’t be afraid to make changes to your task force along the way as objectives become clearer.
- Meet frequently with your task force. The success of any project depends on how bought in each member is. If you fail to bring people on board early, they’ll be less enthusiastic about the project when you eventually do call them in. Give people a chance to pitch in while the project is still in its formative stages for best results.
- Establish space before reflecting on criticisms. While facilitating meetings, make it clear that criticism is welcome. Once you have that criticism, it’s often helpful to leave things for a period of time before trying to brainstorm solutions. This removes the sting from any criticism, giving you the clarity of mind to make effective changes.
- Don’t ignore weaknesses or threats. Do your best to control for your own cognitive biases, too. If you’re tempted to dismiss a raised weakness or threat, ask yourself if you’re looking at your own work through rose-tinted glasses.
- Keep your people informed. If you’re touching base with your task force regularly, this should take care of itself. But you’ll need to make an effort to keep folks updated on what has changed and what progress has been made on the project. Encourage them to do the same. This way, everyone will feel the momentum building, and be spurred to push through the inevitable bumps in the road.
SWOT analysis examples
Here’s an example of a simple project SWOT analysis:
First, they want to determine whether they should repeat the same process they used to launch their previous game, where they paid a hefty fee to distribute via a widely-used digital video game distribution service, which we’ll call DistDigital.
- The last game Orion Games launched through DistDigital is the most-downloaded game in the developers’ catalog.
- DistDigital makes recommendations to players based on their previous purchases, their play time and ratings for each past purchase. This uses a recommendation algorithm Orion Games wouldn’t have the resources to build on their own.
- DistDigital is very well regarded. In many ways, it would be seen as odd if Orion didn’t list their newest game on there.
- DistDigital’s initial fee is expensive. They’d also take a cut of each purchase through their platform, eating into already slim profit margins for Orion Games.
- Orion Games has built a sizeable mailing list and existing audience from past games. It’s possible they’d reach comparable download numbers to previous launches even without DistDigital.
- DistDigital has a huge existing user base. Many new players could discover Orion Digital as a studio, as well as their newest game.
- Distribution can be a multi-faceted headache. Distributing via DistDigital would solve all those problems in a single move. This would free up time and resources to invest on other aspects of the launch.
- Using DistDigital could form part of a successful long-term strategy that foregoes higher profits on this launch in favor of growing a larger player audience.
- Distributing via DistDigital could tie the developers into a contract that forbids them from distributing via other channels, limiting profit potential even further.
- There’s no guarantee DistDigital will promote the game. Especially if it gets off to a slow start with downloads.
- Similar games already on the distribution platform are likely to compete with Orion Games’ latest launch, potentially limiting downloads.
If you’ve performed a preliminary SWOT analysis like this, a project’s kickoff meeting is the perfect time to run through it. You’ll get the chance to sound out your teammates for their input. If you’ve missed anything, they’ll let you know, and you’ll still be involving them right from the start of the project.