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Factsheet:

SWOT analysis

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This factsheet was last updated in October 2015.

What is SWOT analysis?

SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats. Occasionally, it may also be found as a ‘WOTS up’ analysis or the TOWS analysis. The technique is credited to Albert Humphrey who led a research project at Stanford University in the 1960s and 1970s using data from leading companies involved in long range planning processes.

A SWOT analysis is a planning tool used to understand the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project or in a business. It involves stating the objective of the business or project and identifying the internal and external factors that are either supportive or unfavourable to achieving that objective. SWOT is often used as part of a strategic or business planning process, but can be useful in understanding an organisation or situation and decision-making for all sorts of situations.

Any organisation undertaking strategic planning will at some point assess its own strengths and weaknesses. When combined with an inventory of opportunities and threats in the organisation’s external environment, the organisation is effectively making a SWOT analysis establishing its current position.

While at first glance the SWOT looks like a simple model and easy to apply, experience shows that to do a SWOT analysis that is both effective and meaningful, requires time and a significant resource. It requires a team effort and cannot be done effectively by only one person. The SWOT methodology has the advantage of being used as a 'quick and dirty' tool or a comprehensive management tool, and that one (the quick) can lead to the other (the comprehensive). This flexibility is one of the factors that has contributed to its success.

The term ‘SWOT analysis’ is in itself a curious term, for a SWOT is not an analysis in itself, but a number of elements when used together form a valuable framework for analysis. It is essentially a summary of a set of previous analyses – even if those were just 15 minutes of mini-brainstorming with yourself in front of your computer although this approach is not recommended! The analysis, or more correctly ‘interpretation’, comes after the SWOT summary has been produced.

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