Thursday, February 12, 2009

Identifying Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats (SWOTs)

Strategic Planning: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats (SWOTs)


This post will help you identify the critical issues and obstacles that are stopping you from realizing your dreams, and the most important factors that are going to help you overcome those obstacles! Strategic planners call these SWOTs -- strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. They're the primary data for your personal strategic plan.

Identifying SWOTs (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats)

If the plan is for more than one person (e.g., for a family), brainstorming is usually an effective method for identifying SWOTs. If you're "brainstorming" alone, get a pencil and paper, or 3x5 index cards, or your PC, and set aside a half-hour or so of quiet time to do some serious soul-searching. You want to generate as complete a list as you can, covering:
  • Strengths -- you will need to capitalize on these to achieve your vision. For example: I have great analytical skills, a lot of supportive friends and family, make a good salary, etc.
  • Weaknesses -- that you must overcome. For example: I'm not very good at math, I need more marketing experience, I'm not good at time management, etc.
  • Opportunities -- that you need to figure out how to take advantage of. For example: I could lower my monthly payments by refinancing my mortgage; or, I could significantly improve my health if I changed my eating habits/ stopped smoking/ exercised more; or, my company is growing rapidly.
  • Threats -- that jeopardize vision attainment. For example: there is a chance I could lose my job; or, I'm concerned about my parents' health; or, my relationship with my spouse is deteriorating.
I think of strengths and weaknesses as describing where you are now, whereas opportunities and threats provide the future orientation; in a sense, they are potential future strengths and weaknesses. In the spirit of brainstorming, try not to censor your thoughts too much. "I'm not very good at math" may seem irrelevant if your vision is to become a ballerina or NFL quarterback, but may turn out to be relevant when you think seriously about your financial goals.

Sources of SWOTs

Most of your SWOTs will come from:
  • Your overall (general) strengths, weaknesses, etc.
  • Thinking about your dreams, and SWOTs specifically relevant to each of those dreams
  • The other major aspects of your life even though they may only play a "supporting" role -- e.g., "fun," or "health" (see Discovering Your Vision for a "starter" list of areas to consider)
Try to identify SWOTs not just from your own point of view, but from other peoples' points of view as well. What would your family and friends say? How about current and potential employers, and co-workers? What changes can your reasonably anticipate in your life in the next 5 years? For example, might you get married, buy a new home, have children? What emerging economic or social trends could affect your plans? Contemplating changes such as these can generate a new wave of SWOTs. Any perspective is useful if it helps you unearth additional SWOTs. This is all fodder for your plan.

There is no right answer for how much time to spend. If you're still coming up with good ideas after a half-hour or so, continue; if not, it's time to stop (but, feel free to come back and add more SWOTs later).

Refine Your Vision

As you discover SWOTs, your dreams will become clearer; update your original "vision" drafts as you go along. The revised descriptions of your dreams will often help you discover even more SWOTs. Get all those things you have been thinking about doing (and stopping!) "someday" out on the table.

One last thought -- be honest, maybe even brutally honest. In many ways, the process is as important as the final product. Done properly, this process can help you surface issues that you have swept under the rug -- maybe hoping that if you ignored them they would go away; it can also help you recognize strengths and opportunities that you are taking for granted.

Prepare Your Plan for Success

To convert your SWOTs into a plan that maximizes your strengths, takes advantage of your opportunities, overcomes those pesky obstacles, and gets you on the path to realizing your dreams, see Creating Your Personal Strategic Plan.

Some Other Posts in This Series

Discovering Your Vision -- the first step in the process.
*this post fits here*   Identify SWOTs
Writing Your Personal Strategic Plan -- the next and final step in creating your plan.

A Personal Strategic Plan Example: for an intro that includes additional examples & sample formats.
Creating a Mini-Personal Strategic Plan: if doing a full personal strategic plan seems too overwhelming, consider addressing just one key area.
Do You Need a Personal Strategic Plan? Another introduction to personal strategic planning.
Personal Strategic Planning Schematic: a nice schematic that illustrates the relationship between all of my personal strategic planning posts.

The picture is from Public Domain Pictures.
Copyright © 2009. Last modified 12/8/2012

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