How to Conduct a SWOT Analysis - GoLeanSixSigma.com

In Part 1 of this series we discussed how to create a Mission and a Vision for the Lean Six Sigma Program Office. Once the Vision and Mission are vetted with key constituents and the Lean Six Sigma Program Office has a clear understanding of who they are and what they do, it’s time for the Lean Six Sigma Program Office to conduct a SWOT analysis.

In Part 2 of this 4-Part series, we will discuss the SWOT Analysis; what it is, why it’s important and how to conduct one.

What is a SWOT Analysis?

SWOT is an acronym that stands for:

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities
  • Threats

This is a common strategic planning tool used to assess the potential upsides and corresponding downsides of any given effort.

Why do a SWOT Analysis?

The SWOT analysis is a critical input when developing goals and action plans for the upcoming year and beyond. The Lean Six Sigma Program Office uses the information generated during the SWOT analysis to capitalize on potential successes while avoiding pitfalls and working to strengthen areas where the effort is vulnerable.

The Lean Six Sigma Program Office uses the information generated during the SWOT analysis to capitalize on potential successes while avoiding pitfalls and working to strengthen areas where the effort is vulnerable.

Facilitating a SWOT Analysis

There are a variety of ways to facilitate an effective session. Below are three factors that impact the choice of facilitation methods:

  1. The number of people involved: If there are less than 8, it is easy to hold discussions as a large group and capture the output on flipcharts. If there are more than 8 people involved, it will be more challenging to share airtime and get everyone’s thoughts and ideas. A common facilitation technique is to have participants brainstorm SWOT elements on post-its, one comment per post-it, and then have them sort the post-its into like groupings (see Affinity Analysis) prior to discussion.
  2. The personality types involved: There are two main personality types we’re concerned with here: introverts and extroverts. Introverts may feel uncomfortable competing for airtime with extroverts. If you have both types in the room it’s be important to mix up facilitation activities to accommodate them both. Extroverts love talking out loud about everything! In contrast, introverts prefer some built-in reflection time before chiming in and are likely to be more comfortable sharing ideas on post-it notes first and then opening up for discussion later.
  3. The position & rank of those present: The comfort level of participants often changes if someone of higher rank or position is in the room. Be mindful of this dynamic. If people are holding back their true thoughts and feelings then you won’t get the necessary input especially when it comes to weaknesses. It’s better to excuse higher ranking individuals for the brainstorming and have them return for the debrief or summary.

If you have both types in the room it’s be important to mix up facilitation activities to accommodate them both.

Below are topics to consider brainstorming within each category.

Strengths:

  • Identify the process improvement strengths of the organization
  • Identify the process improvement strengths of the Lean Six Sigma Program Office. (What are things we do well as a department?)
  • Identify the Lean Six Sigma Program Office strengths in helping the organization move forward in the Continuous Improvement journey

Weaknesses:

  • Identify the process improvement weaknesses of the organization
  • Identify the process improvement weaknesses of the Lean Six Sigma Program Office (What are things we do not do well as a department?)
  • Identify the Lean Six Sigma Program Office weaknesses in helping the organization move forward in the Continuous Improvement journey

Opportunities:

  • Identify things that will help the organization move towards a better tomorrow
  • Identify gaps or places to improve, communicate, celebrate or gain traction in the Lean Six Sigma Program Office along with other departments
  • Identify new ways for the Lean Six Sigma Program Office to use skills and talents to develop employees and the organization as a whole

Threats:

  • Identify factors that could negatively impact the Lean Six Sigma Program Office’s efforts or overall success
  • Identify threats that might exist from stakeholders and executives
  • Identify threats that might exist from other initiatives along with resources constraints
  • Identify resistance that might come from other departments

Below is an example of a brainstormed list from attendees on Strengths and Weaknesses of a Lean Six Sigma Program Office. The team picked ideas from their discussions, wrote one concept per post-it and then placed them all on a flipchart.

Once posted, a few of the participants affinitized, or sorted the post-its into similar groupings, and assigned a label or title to each group of post-its. The sorting and labeling helped the team see the biggest categories and summarize the information.

Sample Groupings of Brainstormed Output:

Sample Groupings of Brainstormed Output - GoLeanSixSigma.com

Sample Groupings of Brainstormed Output - GoLeanSixSigma.com

Once the SWOT is populated:

The team can now analyze each category and brainstorm possible goals and actions to address the observation. Below are ways to address each SWOT category:

Strengths:

  • Question: What strengths can we leverage to maximize success?
  • Action: Brainstorm goals and actions to leverage recognized strengths.  

For Weaknesses:

  • Question: What can we do to compensate for our weaknesses?  
  • Action: Brainstorm goals and actions to compensate for or overcome acknowledged weaknesses.

For Opportunities:

  • Question: What opportunities should we address and seize upon now?
  • Action: Brainstorm possible goals and actions to capitalize on selected opportunities.

For Threats:

  • Question: What threats can’t we ignore?
  • Action: Brainstorm which threats are critical to focus on now
  • Question: How do we mitigate these threats?
  • Action: Brainstorm possible goals and actions to mitigate selected threats.

The team then takes the goals and action steps generated and filters and prioritizes their list. Once prioritized, they can agree on which goals to establish and then identify corresponding metrics to define what “success” looks like.

Stay tuned for more on this in Part 3 of this series: Setting Goals and Metrics.

Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Managing Partner & Executive Advisor at GoLeanSixSigma.com. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at University of California San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.