Decision Making

by Ian Moore

SWOT

If a man will begin with certainties he shall end his doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties.

Francis Bacon

This technique originated in marketing, but can be used in any area of decision making.

Four factors are taken into consideration:

  • Strengths: what are the strengths of the decision?
  • Weaknesses: what are the weaknesses?
  • Opportunities: what opportunities could exist if the decision is made?
  • Threats: what threats would exist if the decision is made?

Strengths and Weaknesses are internal factors.
Opportunities and Threats are external factors.
Strengths and Opportunities are helpful factors.
Weaknesses and Threats are unhelpful factors.

Using the technique

Firstly, you should define the objective of the decision: for example, ‘the objective is to generate more sales’. It is important to identify the objective clearly before starting the swot analysis and stick with it during the analysis. For instance, ‘generating more sales’ may not ‘generate more profit’. If you have decided that the first objective is the one you want to work with, you then stick with that during the analysis. You can always do other swots with other objectives. In fact, it is often very useful to do separate swots for a number of related objectives.

The usual way of running a swot analysis is to draw a square of 2x2 boxes on a piece of paper and write down ideas in each box:

Tip

For complex situations or group decision making, you can use a large wall or desk space and post-it notes.

Extending the external factors

The external factors in a swot are the ‘opportunities’ and ‘threats’ boxes. You can increase the number of items in each of these boxes by doing a PEST analysis on them.

Strengths and weaknesses

As with the other techniques for decision making, you can apply the idea that ‘all strengths are weaknesses and all weaknesses are strengths. For example, you can convert each strength to three weaknesses and each weakness to three strengths. Similarly, you can convert each ‘opportunity’ to three ‘threats’ and each ‘threat’ to three opportunities.

It may also be possible to convert the ‘internal’ factors to ‘external’ factors and vice versa, but you will probably find that these do not generate as many items.

Making your decision

If the ‘strengths’ and ‘opportunities’ significantly outweigh the ‘weaknesses’ and ‘threats’, it is likely that taking the decision will turn out to be a good move. If the opposite is true, then it is likely that you should not make this decision or should make an opposite one.

Note that if you don’t get to any firm conclusion with this technique, it is likely to be worthwhile for you to change your objective and run the SWOT analysis again.