Monday, August 07, 2006

Beyond SWOT and towards Change

As every process change practitioner knows, simple business tools catch on. Who hasn’t heard of a SWOT chart – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats? On the other hand, how many business people know how to perform a SWOT analysis effectively? Drawing a SWOT chart might look easy, but solving the problem it represents is far from trivial. Many of us use the simple SWOT framework and hardly ever stop to think about what the structure of the chart really means. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of considering our work done if we can get the team members to agree on what to write in the four boxes! Unfortunately, the process often ends there.

Advocates claim that a SWOT chart can help to uncover opportunities that your company is well placed to take advantage of. And by understanding your weaknesses, a company can manage and eliminate threats that would otherwise catch it unawares. By examining your company and your competitors through the lens of a SWOT, it is claimed, business leaders can craft a strategy that helps distinguish a company from competitors. But is it really that simple?

Have you ever thought about what a SWOT chart really is? It is more than just four boxes on a page. Each box relates to the other. When developing a SWOT, you are developing a statement about a problem. Think about it. Opportunities are problems. The problem is how to exploit those opportunities. Weaknesses are also problems. They must be overcome lest they prevent a company from your exploiting your its strengths in the pursuit of the opportunities. Threats are also problems, which could jeopardize capitalizing on strengths. Every SWOT chart is a conundrum, and this is why many SWOT charts sit on shelves with the problem unsolved. Rarely if ever does a company develop a comprehensive strategy for dealing with the outcome of a SWOT workshop.

Systematic innovation and problem-solving processes like P-TRIZ can move us beyond the basic SWOT to provide a comprehensive approach to mobilizing a strategy for action. To get from SWOT to process change requires a comprehensive process.

You can download a PDF to read about how to go beyond a simplistic SWOT analysis and move on towards an actionable implementation strategy using P-TRIZ.