Leaders have struggled for decades, with greater and lesser degrees of success, to navigate the complexity of their world. They want to understand their situation and environment; their risks and opportunities.  Often, these leaders use a strategic planning method called SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) to help them achieve clarity and to begin planning a path forward.

But we don’t find SWOT a useful way to go about these things. In fact, we find it essentially irrelevant.

SWOT deals with two types of factors — Internal and External.  Internal factors are usually the strengths and weaknesses that are, you guessed it, internal to the organization. External factors are generally the opportunities and threats present in the external marketplace or environment.

But SWOT misses quite a lot. It focuses on the compilation of lists rather than an intended future state. It fails to take into account the level of commitment across the team. It lacks clear prioritization and any form of systems lens. And it can barely account for change over time.

Not very useful.

No matter who you are, no matter what your industry, your area of expertise, your challenge, you NEED certain things to accompany a SWOT-like analysis. You need:

  • A shared understanding of the past, the present and the intended future
  • A common way forward
  • A compelling case to change from the current way of doing things
  • Situational trust among and between the parties that must be part of any successful future state

The basic truth is that knowing your strengths and weaknesses simply isn’t enough. You need to determine these strengths and weaknesses while enabling a deep common understanding, a shared sense of purpose, and strong situational trust across the diverse team of stakeholders connected to your project or organisation. If your team doesn’t see your situation and agree on a common way forward, you run the constant risk that someone will torpedo your project.

SWOT is ultimately nothing more than an unactionable list in a snapshot of time with no defined purpose. Although it remains the most common technique for situational analysis, we moved on to better options a while ago.

Have you moved on?