Still using SWOT lists? Maybe your planning process is a weakness.

Posted by on Feb 22, 2011

Are you still kicking off strategic planning with a SWOT analysis? If you are, maybe you should list “outdated and potentially dangerous strategic planning process” as your first weakness! Here’s why.

The Weaknesses on your SWOT list may be worse than just a waste of time – they may actually increase your risk of failure!  The only weaknesses that matter are deficiencies in the critical success factors required for your new strategy. But you won’t know what they are until you’ve drafted the new strategy and identified the critical success factors required for that specific strategy.

Even after you’ve created your new strategy, your list of Weaknesses may increase your risk of failure. Most new strategic plans require a change in direction, taking people and the organization out of their comfort zone.  We all know what happens then. When pushed out of their comfort zone, most people become tentative, fearing the unknown, feeling insecure about their lack of knowledge and experience, and imagining barriers that don’t exist and exaggerating ones that do.

Building confidence is a critical part of creating and implementing a new strategy. “when you don’t think you can, you probably won’t”. Ignore this psychological barrier at your peril. This is exacerbated by long lists of weaknesses.

To summarize, if you’re still listing weaknesses before you select your high level strategy, you may be making two big mistakes.

1) You’re setting objectives to fix these weaknesses (after all, if you aren’t doing this, what use is your weakness list).  Then, you’re applying resources to fix problems that mattered with your previous strategy, but not for the one you’re about to make!

2) You’re imagining barriers that aren’t really there, or making them seem more important than they are. This has an effect – often subconscious – on your willingness to try something new or commit to an ambitious vision.

In short, you need a new approach to creating strategy.  Your current process reduces your likelihood of success. It’s time for a change.

Copyright 2011 Knowlan Consulting Group Inc.



  1. Echos my sentiments very well. You could also make parallel observations about strengths, opportunities and threats as well regarding doing these lists prior to establishing your new strategy.

  2. Great points.

    My one minor quibble might be around the scenario I’ve seen where a strategic planning session can proceed down a particular path – hijacked – just based on the strong personality of one or two participants. I like to provide an opportunity – usually using the SWOT technique – for people to provide their opinions ahead of the session in order to put on the table their diverse views. I gather them up and have them presented before Mr. or Ms. Smartypants takes over and silences others.

    Now, when it comes time for debate and prioritization, it should take you to the same place. It’s the starting point I often worry about.

    Anyway, love the post. :-)

    • Thanks, Darren.

      A few dominant personalities can make group sessions tedious and a lot less productive, but there are other ways around it. I seldom start any planning session by listing participants’ input. To me, it’s a colossal waste of everyone’s time. Back when SWOT analysis was a required staple in planning, I found it took nearly 2 full days for most teams to do a thorough SWOT analysis from start to finish. There are much better ways to invest time in creating good strategies.