The Comprehensive Guide to SWOT Analysis

By Liza Mock on Oct 23, 2017 in Gliffy Diagram Tips & Tricks

When you need an overview of your business, the market, or a new feature idea, SWOT analysis is exactly what you need. Or maybe you want to figure out a crisis remediation, or a go-to-market strategy — SWOT's for that as well. 


SWOT analysis is a time-tested tool that helps you navigate problems by making an honest evaluation of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Think of it as a kind of pumped-up pro-con chart, with more features and a slicker design that helps you actually get stuff done.

Holy cow, right?!

Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 6.35.16 PM.png(Donald 'Jared' Dunn tries to convince the characters of Silicon Valley to SWOT themselves out of a dilemma. | Source


Best of all, SWOT analysis can be done by anyone — but it needs to be used correctly to help your business and not be a waste of time.

We'll cover what the best use cases for SWOT analysis are, and lay bare its weaknesses. Then, we'll take you through exactly how to perform a SWOT analysis, and what types of things it can help you reveal about your business.

What is SWOT analysis?

SWOT analysis is a method of analysis that splits factors up into four parts: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Strengths and weaknesses indicate “internal” factors, controlled by the makers of the decision, and opportunities and threats are “external” factors, outside of an individual or company's control. 

Let's say you're an e-commerce app that helps people sell clothes and accessories that's thinking about adding some sort of social feature — what would the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats look like for you as a company?

  • Strengths. Your strengths are the things you control that give you an advantage over your competitors. Maybe your app has more users than your competitors. Maybe it has the most items listed, or the best return policy.
  • Weaknesses. Your weaknesses are the things you have some control over that put you at a disadvantage. Maybe your app is only available in English, or only available on Android devices.
  • Opportunities. Your opportunities are what you don't control but that you can take advantage of — like the rise of mobile e-commerce or emerging VR capabilities that could give customers a better look at clothes.
  • Threats. Your threats are what you don't control that could negatively affect you. Perhaps there's a new competitor that is rapidly capturing the 35-45 age demographic you were just starting to get a foothold in, or your biggest international shipping is from France to England, and England just imposed new international shipping fees.

The goal of SWOT analysis is to help planning and strategy. It can be used in a myriad of settings and for a myriad of projects, but is generally most effective in the early stages before a project or venture begins. 


SWOT analysis can take many forms, but most choose to easily arrange them in a chart or a diagram, to compare factors side-by-side. Here are two of the most common, a column arrangement and a four quadrant arrangement:

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When should you use SWOT analysis?

SWOT analysis doesn't work well in every scenario. It's a broad tool that helps categorize and break down things for further consideration. It doesn't present a clear solution or path forward — it's a descriptive tool. Let's look at some of the places that SWOT analysis works best:

  • Early brainstorming and planning. SWOT analysis is great for early stages when you're doing exploratory work to get a feel for a new venture, new feature, new strategic plan, etc. For example, you're trying to figure out whether or not to add a social feature to your e-commerce app.
  • Stuck on a problem. When there's no clear solution in sight and you're chasing your tail trying to solve a problem, doing SWOT analysis can help you get a clear grasp of your positives and limitations to incise into what is the root of your problem. For example, you're not sure about the best marketing avenue for your app, so you decide to do SWOT analysis for each.
  • Gaining an overview. Whether you're trying to look at your internal structure or the business landscape, SWOT can provide a great platform to get a bird's eye view of current events and how your behavior helps and hinders you, generally. For example, it's time to expand your clothing app's team, and you want to figure out an overview of your company culture to add likeminded team members.

SWOT is not a good tool when you need nitty gritty detail, or when you don't have a specific idea of what you're trying to analyze. It's not going to replace more complex systems, like you would see in a postmortem analysis, because it inherently resists being a comprehensive tool for breaking down actions and processes. However, it could surely play a role in such a process. 

 

Strengths of SWOT

Now that we've gone over some good use cases for SWOT analysis, let's take a quick look at what makes it an effective tool:

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It's clear that these attributes align well with its best use cases of planning and overviews. The technique's rigidity and simple, but objective framework can really clarify early questions about new ventures.

Weaknesses of SWOT

To help you understand when (not) to do a SWOT analysis, here are some of the big negatives to the framework. 

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Remember — every form of analysis has both a down and an upside. SWOT is a good tool, it's just not perfect for every scenario. When you try to nail down an exact solution to a problem or figure out what your next step is, a SWOT analysis isn't going to give you enough information to take those steps on its own.

How to do your own SWOT analysis

Now that we've covered the basics of SWOT analysis, let's look at how you can do one yourself. We'll use our e-commerce example to illustrate each step.

Step one: Identify what you want to analyze

As we've seen, SWOT analysis works best when you have a clear objective, but one that's broad enough for the rubric to be useful. In this case, the question would be “is adding a social feature a viable move?” — not what social feature, how do we roll out the feature, etc. It's a baseline.

Step two: Research

Good research for SWOT analysis can be anything from industry trends to internal success rates. For our social feature, we might look at how long it would take to get the feature up and running, whether or not our competitors have a social function, even what social apps our userbase enjoys the most. 

Step three: Brainstorm answers

Go ahead and brainstorm as much as you can. Get the obvious factors on the board, and then push your team to get a little creative. As we've already seen, SWOT analysis can be felled by having every imaginable thing crammed into each category, burying the most important factors. However, it will pay off to be thorough in this step because you want to make sure that you find those most important factors to bring into the equation. 

Trim and refine answers

Now that you've got a thorough brainstorm going on, cut anything that doesn't aid your analysis. And make your answers as specific as possible! 

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Discuss your SWOT chart and define next steps

After our social app team went through the previous steps, let's say they came up with a SWOT chart that looks something like this:

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Now it's time to gather the team and go over your analysis. Use your analysis to lay out the basis of your discussion, but steer your group towards defining next steps. If most of our app users like social, that's a good indicator that there's opportunity for your social app to succeed. You'll also be trying to cut in on social sharing platforms taking over some of your business, which could be a way to mitigate that threat.

You might decide that yes — it is a viable move to add a social app. However, it does come at a cost — setting back your redesign or hiring more engineers. You have the answer to your question, but you don't have a clear next step. The SWOT chart can't give that to you, it's up to you to decide.

SWOT your way to success

Incorporating SWOT analysis into your planning is a great way to help clarify your planning and exploratory processes. It's quick and easy to assemble, and anyone in the company should be able to do it. As a tool, it's very accessible and provides a great framework for discussions. 

Soon, you too could be staring out at a beautiful billboard filled with ideas and analysis.

Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 6.39.14 PM.png(Although hopefully you're a little more business-minded than our friends in Silicon Valley. | Source)

To find out more about Gliffy's SWOT analysis tools, or to start a SWOT chart of your own, click here: 

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