Implementing a SWOT Analysis for Savvy Decision-Making

Earlier this year, I led a half-day exercise with more than 50 national elected leaders of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) at one of the AIA Strategic Council assemblies. The starting point for the day was a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis, a strategic-planning tool that I have used often for internal planning at MKThink, organizational planning with clients, and even to assist in personal decision-making. I was surprised to find that not a single member of the AIA Strategic Council had ever undertaken a SWOT analysis. Here, I offer a quick overview of SWOT and the variety of ways that you and your firm can put it to practice.A SWOT analysis, or matrix as it is sometimes called, is a method that evaluates the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, or threats related to an organization’s overall strategy, an individual project, or a product decision-making procedure. To use a SWOT, one must first decide what is being evaluated. Then draw a grid of two squares across and two down. The top two squares are for strengths and weaknesses, and the bottom are for opportunities and threats. Within each square, write single words or short phrases related to each SWOT category. Depending on the application, SWOT can be utilized as a quick charette, as a generative exercise, or be developed more thoroughly to form the basis of a broader strategic exercise. SWOT quickly identifies both internal and external factors that are either favorable or unfavorable to the decision-making process, uncovering potential positive and negative factors to aid in analysis. Strengths and weaknesses are often viewed from an internal perspective, shining a light specifically on what makes organizations or specific opportunities unique. On the other hand, the analysis of opportunities and threats is primarily an external view of competitors, as well as of changes in the landscape (think technology) that are either exploitable or may create potential obstacles to success.

Using SWOT for organizational success
In my experience at MKThink, we have used a SWOT analysis to redefine our company’s overall mission and vision and to reposition the service offerings for our strategy studio. It is a great way to involve our firm and strategy studio in the process. For us, the exercise has given each person the opportunity to have a voice regarding the future of the firm and has also helped us identify the different types of services we should consider offering based on the strategy team’s existing skill sets and interests. For client engagements, we sometimes use SWOT for overall strategy definition, but we most often use it as a quick icebreaker at the start of stakeholder engagements. Implemented as an initial exercise, it can help to gather and better understand individuals’ perspectives and values.

Using SWOT for project and team success
The use of a SWOT matrix does not have to happen purely at a broader organizational level. It can become a quick tool used internally on a regular basis. For business development, SWOT can be utilized as a standard framework to decide whether or not a project is worth pursuing or if there is a new sector worth exploring. In marketing, the tool can be used to analyze firm competitors.

Using SWOT for personal success

In an economy in which specialization is becoming more significant and individuals are looking to distinguish themselves as knowledge leaders, a personal SWOT analysis can identify areas in which one can differentiate oneself from peers. SWOT can also help create an individual road map to determine the areas that one should consider pursuing given a certain skill set and, therefore, identify personal paths for professional development.Those who are interested in learning more about SWOT should visit And for those who are familiar with SWOT, I encourage you to implement it at a variety of scales.