Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Summary of Findings: SWOT (2.5 out of 5 Stars)

Note: This post represents the synthesis of the thoughts, procedures and experiences of others as represented in the  articles read in advance (see previous posts) and the discussion among the students and instructor during the Advanced Analytic Techniques class at Mercyhurst University in September 2016 regarding SWOT as an Analytic Technique specifically. This technique was evaluated based on its overall validity, simplicity, flexibility and its ability to effectively use unstructured data.

Description:

SWOT is an analytic modifier that combines Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats into one cohesive analysis.  SWOT is marginally effective in looking at both internal and external environments across the previously set parameters. The analysis focuses on all of these factors as viewed from the standpoint of a specific organization.

Strengths:

  • Useful for team-collaboration (Particularly if used with the nominal group technique)
  • It is easy to use
  • Can provide a better understanding of an outside organization
  • Can be used as an analytic modifier with other methods of analysis

Weaknesses:

  • The results are not easily replicated because information imputed can be highly subjective.
  • Because SWOT is more of a modifier and not a method, its use as a forecasting tool on its own is very minimal.
  • As an intelligence tool, it is too often used for internal inspection and not external threats/problems.
  • SWOT needs to be paired with a second, more robust method in order to enhance its capability as a forecasting tool.
  • Often misunderstood; the definitions for each category are not well defined and its intent is vague.

How-To:

SWOT is a moderately useful modifier when thinking externally about another organization or individual. SWOT is effectively a brainstorming technique that is simple to conduct:
  1. Define the external organization or individual in question that requires analysis.
  2. Identify and list the known or perceived Strengths of the topic. (A solid number to shoot for is between 5-10)  
  3. Do the same thing for the topic’s Weaknesses.
  4. Then list any potential Opportunities the topic has to improve their current standings. (Think what actions could they take in the future to better their situation.)
  5. Identify any potential Threats to the topic that could cause them to deteriorate or miss opportunities.
  6. Use the completed list to create strategies that avoid the topics’ strengths and opportunities and aim to take advantage of their weaknesses and threats.

Personal Application of Technique:

In order for SWOT to be appropriately applied for intelligence work, the analysis needs to be focused on a specific external environment. Team members conducting the analysis role-play as the organization or entity in which they wish to study and work from what knowledge they have on that specific organization. The obvious issue that appears from using this modifier is that understandings may be heavily skewed from lack of knowledge or bias creating an inaccurate assessment. Accuracy is also limited because feelings or known “facts” about the subject of the study may change dramatically from day to day meaning that the analysis is not adequately replicable.

For this exercise, the two groups in our class collaborated on a joint effort to utilize SWOT. One team led the demonstration and began by informing the other group about the topic for the SWOT analysis, which was Mercyhurst University. The leading team used nominal group technique (NGT) and had the other team independently brainstorm ideas that would fit into the different categories for approximately three minutes. After this was completed, ideas were sourced from everyone and put on the board, one category at a time. Once all categories were completed, the leading team used the remaining time to combine the categories in an attempt to create actionable strategies. For example, factors from the strengths category were combined with some from the opportunities category to create a likely actionable strategy for Mercyhurst University.

Much of the extant research on this modifier suggests that the tool should not be limited to the technique alone, however, it should be supplemented by additional methodologies to enhance the SWOTs overall observation and insight capabilities.  Additionally, the research shows that SWOT does not necessarily provide adequate analytic coverage due to much of the specific areas of analysis being ambiguous and non-replicable.
*SWOT analysis is a modifying technique that can be used mostly as a thinking tool. In order to develop a form of forecasting capability with SWOT it must be attached to a second methodology that can give insight toward a forecast. Often times SWOT is something humans just do out of habit due to no other method coming to mind. For this exercise the two groups were split between one researching articles concerning SWOT, while the other conducted a SWOT exercise in class. From both it became apparent that particularly in the application of intelligence and capabilities to influence forecasting SWOT holds little to no strength by itself.

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