Does a ‘SWOT analysis’ really give you what you need?

- June 2019

By Russ Lowes, Senior Manager at Parbery Consulting 

In business, there is often considerable praise and acknowledgement for great plans that in actual fact, could have been better. High fives for mediocrity and getting across the line on a ‘tough project’ that’s late and over budget has become far too common. The bar for excellence is set too low!

Significant amounts of money change hands based on plans, analyses and projects that weren’t coordinated that well. Or perhaps resources (including time) were underestimated for an important project that is now going over budget.

The resource issue appears from time to time, particularly in certain sectors that might spend public money. With a degree of confidence, I would bet that almost everyone could cite an example of high-profile projects taking too long to complete, requiring post-completion repairs or needing upgrades all too soon. One could be forgiven for thinking those issues should have been avoided through lessons from past experiences. So what is it that is not being done that creates inefficiencies, waste and sub-standard work?

After three years offering a very structured problem-solving and decision-making process that can be employed individually or collectively, the Australian Defence Force Joint Military Appreciation Process (JMAP) and its parent, Army’s MAP, has now been used (by myself and others) to great success.

Originally designed for military and commercial projects, the approach has far more ‘OOMPH!’ than the ‘oft used Strength Weaknesses Opportunities Threats (SWOT) Analysis. This is mainly because the SWOT analysis isn’t actually what I would call an analysis at all. It is only the deductions and conclusions of asking, ‘What are the strengths, weaknesses etc?’. It doesn’t analyse the environment.

If one considers a basic, root-cause approach using SWOT as the tool, the following questions may be left unanswered:

  • Did the project actually complement the strategic vision and plan of the client?
  • What sort of requirement analysis was conducted to identify the aspects which must be done according to a statement of works?
  • What other unstated tasks arose as essential elements of the project?
  • How many options were developed and tested before one was selected as ‘The Plan’?
  • How were these requirements communicated to stakeholders?
  • How was progress monitored and changes implemented – were they factored into planning?
  • What post-project critical review was conducted and how was the information captured for future use?

The SWOT activity is just a bit light on. It doesn’t ask the question ‘What if?’. It doesn’t run the options through possible events, testing them at critical identified points in the timeline of activities. This is where a more detailed planning tool, such as MAP or JMAP is worth its weight in gold!

Tie that in with the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act… and repeat) identified by USAF pilot John Boyd during the Korean War, and your project stands a very good chance of unprecedented success – if the reviewers are honest with themselves.

This is not revolutionary. Private and public sectors have long adapted the OODA Loop into their approaches. It fits in nicely with other concepts such as the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Cycle, Schewart Cycle or Deming Circle/Cycle/Wheel. Then, there’s the Synchronization Matrix… just like a Gantt Chart, only better!

But these are all concepts for future blogs.

Ultimately, the SWOT just isn’t enough. Not anymore. Not for the important stuff.