SWOT is a frequently used management tool, useful for reflection, decision-making and appraising options

SWOT is particularly useful because of its simplicity, the way in which it takes seconds to set up, and can be easily explained to others and therefore used as a group exercise. The simplicity of the idea belies how easily it can be extended and built on.

Take whatever idea you’re wishing to consider and to look at it in terms of 4 areas:

Strengths – what does this idea have as advantages? What does it bring to the school / organisation / yourself? What other things are linked to it that would be advantageous?

Weaknesses – what are the intrinsic problems with the idea? What are the associated costs (financial, resources, management time etc)?

Opportunities – what avenues could this open up? How does this idea fit with the existing strategy? Could it bring new ideas into the ongoing strategic development? The opportunities should be those things outside the actual issue, and will often be outside the school / organisation itself.

Threats – what are the dangers of adopting this approach? How will others see the change?

Brainstorm around these themes for a few minutes – it doesn’t matter if some things go in different or multiple categories. The important thing is to get the ideas out there and work through them.

Once you’ve got your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats worked out, you can begin to consider if the Strengths and Opportunities outweigh the Weaknesses and Threats.You may see that there is an immediate threat that means the idea is not viable, but try to think a little deeper to see if the idea can be changed in some way to minimise this threat.

You may subsequently move on to using another decision-making tool to help you further in identifying the way forward, or you may see things that have to be adopted as first steps before the idea can be adopted. Alternatively, you may be comparing two options and have a better idea of which is the more appropriate choice.

Situations where you might use SWOT

  • A new project or venture that you’ve thought of (or that someone has suggested to you).
  • A change to existing practice.
  • A way of involving other people in a change process, so that you can gain from their ideas and they feel that they have been involved.
  • As part of the ongoing strategic planning process (e.g. where we are now?) or to consider a change in strategic direction.
  • A choice between two applicants for a job who both appear to equally fit the job specification.
  • Choosing when to adopt a new practice – some changes are better sooner rather than later and some vice versa.

This article has been reproduced with permission from management-resources.org. More tips, techniques and advice for managers can be found at www.management-resources.org.

This article first appeared in Teaching Expertise magazine, December 2005.