Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis is most often applied in a variety of business contexts. It can also be used to analyze unrelated situations where strategic decision-making is important. In the business context, SWOT analysis is used for strategic planning and development. Non-business applications include personal and professional development, life management and financial planning.
SWOT analysis is a way taking an assessment of a current position and identifying internal and external factors that establish that position and can lead to change. It is an exercise in decision-making that relies on specific data to generate a strategic plan. Formal applications of SWOT can most often be seen in business management, but informal applications of the analysis are conducted by individuals everyday. The people employing this type of thinking in their daily lives may not be aware of its academic genesis.
Businesses use SWOT analysis to plan for the future. They apply the analysis to the business as a whole, to a department or a product, or to a competitor. Strategic planning, marketing and product development are typical business areas where management teams use SWOT. The evaluation of strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats can also be used by an audit team to design corrective action. Large corporations use SWOT in the context of research and development, patent mapping and with large-scale planning projects.
In an entrepreneurial context, SWOT analysis is often part of the creation of the initial business plan. In fact, lenders and investors ordinarily require this type of evaluation to prove the prospective business owner has properly assessed the risk and the likely position of the business in the marketplace. These business applications of SWOT are only examples, however. There are many other types of business situations that employ SWOT, including as a theoretical exercise to solicit input from employees during retreats and workshops.
Ordinary people also use SWOT to make decisions, though they may not know the official name for the process. For example, when a person decides whether or not to make a major life decision, such as re-locating or ending a relationship, he may make a list that details pros and cons, considering those factors against future opportunities or potential pitfalls. These are just different labels applied to the traditional SWOT categories. Financial analysts use SWOT to evaluate investments and career planners use it to help people decide on a direction for their career.
Most interesting, perhaps, is the application of SWOT to the personal development arena as used by life coaches and motivational speakers. It is not uncommon to find these types of professionals employing a modified SWOT approach in workshops and seminars to get people to identify their personal assets and develop a plan for the future. These types of uses merely underscore the flexibility of SWOT analysis as a decision-making paradigm.