Begin Every Project with a SWOT Analysis

Here’s an idea to help your projects go smoothly. Start each project off making sure that the team understands the business context it is operating in by  performing a SWOT analysis.

I’ve been in a number of discussion recently that have made me think about ways to get projects off on a solid footing, understanding the real business context of a project.  I recently attended a course on requirements elicitation that made me think about useful techniques for “eliciting requirements” (whatever they are). Interestingly techniques such as SWOT analyses were not mentioned. I’ve had discussions with some of the business analysts at work about useful ways to capture what the context of a project is – in one case we made use of the VPEC-T method from Nigel Green’s book Lost in Translation. It therefore ironic that I later discussed this with Nigel himself when he posted a recent blog post on the topic of whatever happened to business analysis? In that post Nigel mentioned use of a range of tools including SWOT analysis, and it immediately got me thinking.

My suggestion is that at the start of a project you will find it really helpful (whether you are in the role of an architect, a business analyst or a project manager) to perform a SWOT analysis. In particular I’d recommend you run a SWOT analysis workshop with your key stakeholders both business and IT. A SWOT analysis will show you the Strengths and Weaknesses of your organisation (the internal positive and negative factors) , and it will show you the Opportunities and Threats for your organisation (external positive and negative factors) with respect to the project. This is vital information which will help your project succeed. I have been in many projects which have run into issues late in the life of the project and then someone turns around and says “but we all know that this is always a problem here…”. Key internal and external risks can be exposed, as well as opportunities that we can take advantage of. In any case, a significant part of the context of your project will be documented. Including both business and IT stakeholders in your analysis is crucial, as that is the only way you can get full coverage of the issues. The other useful fact about SWOT analyses is that they are a tool that many people in your business will understand. If your stakeholders are marketers or private sector senior management, this will be a language they understand, and you will therefore gain an opportunity to demonstrate that you can speak their language.

So next time you start a project, give it a try! The worst that can happen is you waste a few hours of time at the beginning of a project. The best that can happen is you can avoid wasting millions of dollars!

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4 Comments to “Begin Every Project with a SWOT Analysis”

  1. Hi Doug,
    When you say ‘Strengths and Weaknesses of your organisation’ do you mean relative to the project team or do you mean relative to the scope/domain of the business change that is expected of the project? In other words, what is best focus area for the SWOT in your view? I’ve had similar challenges getting the focus right for a VPEC-T analysis and nowadays start with a ‘canvas’ on which to apply the analysis (e.g. rich picture, BMC, ITOM etc)
    Cheers,
    Nigel

    • Hi Nigel,

      I mean the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats with respect to your organisation achieving the desired outcomes of the project. So what will hinder the organisation (including but not limited to the project team) from achieving its goals, and what will help it. These will include things that the project team can and cannot address or take advantage of. Does that answer your question?

      • Yes thanks, so the SWOT is against the whole organisations ability to deliver the outcomes of the project in hand. Nice, but almost as challenging as doing a VPEC-T on the same topic! Hard to engender a candid response, methinks?

      • Hi nigel,

        In my experience people are actually quite candid about how dreadful their workplace is. What is usually harder is to get them to think about opportunities and strengths.

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