Using SWOT as a Strategy Facilitation Tool

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SWOT Proper facilitation of swot-tows brainstorming using

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When used right, SWOT is a powerful brainstorming tool for exploring strategy

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Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs don’t know how to use it properly

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And in my experience, swot has lost its practical value over the years

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Me thinks it is time for a refresher course

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A swot starts by looking inwards

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It asks what strengths & weaknesses do you bring to the table

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But it also considers the external context

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It asks what opportunities & threats are impacting you from the outside

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Mistake #1 confusing internal capabilities versus external drivers

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Let’s look at an example…

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INTERNAL EXTERNAL STRENGTH WEAKNESS OPPORTUNITIES THREATS Here is a blank swot table

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Draw one of these on some large flip chart paper and tape it to the wall (or just draw on the walls )

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have all the members of the team independently (without talking) write single ideas using post-it notes & stick them in the relevant cell

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have everyone read as a group, clarifying as required, and merging duplicates

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WARNING: In this process, You’ll find some examples of threats & opportunities that are actually internal rather than external, so you’ll need to rephrase them or move those ideas to strength/weakness

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WARNING: make sure that everyone has a chance to speak up and that everyone fully understands each idea

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You’ll end up with something like this

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INTERNAL EXTERNAL STRENGTH WEAKNESS OPPORTUNITIES THREATS Unique domain skills in our market Strong existing client relationships Ahead of the competitors by 6-9 months Mature R&D program Sufficiently sized financial war chest High key-man risk Product-Market fit in new segments Internal politics & bureaucracy Still lack strategic alliances Strong, new entrants Potential regulatory changes Weak macro-economics Traditional competitors moving down into our segment Labour shortage in local market Emerging HNW Insurance segment Growth in Asia Maturity of Mobile / Social / IoT High levels of cash holdings in target segment

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However, though interesting, there will be no thoughtful prioritization at this stage

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Mistake #2 Not prioritizing ideas

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As a group you need to prioritize (force-rank) the items in each cell

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To do this, use the wisdom-of-crowds

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Start by Giving everyone 10 virtual dollars

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Ask each person to invest some or all of their $10 into the ideas in each cell based on how important they find the idea (the facilitator can serve as the bookie)

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Everyone must spend all their money

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You can spend $1 on an idea, or all $10, or anything in between (but remember others are investing too, so spend wisely)

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Here is an example of what the output might look like for the Strengths cell, given a team of 5 ($50)

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INTERNAL EXTERNAL STRENGTH WEAKNESS OPPORTUNITIES THREATS Unique domain skills in our market Strong existing client relationships Ahead of the competitors by 6-9 months Mature R&D program Sufficiently sized financial war chest High key-man risk Product-Market fit in new segments Internal politics & bureaucracy Still lack strategic alliances XXX Strong, new entrants Potential regulatory changes Weak macro-economics Traditional competitors moving down into our segment Labour shortage in local market Emerging HNW Insurance segment Growth in Asia Maturity of Mobile / Social / IoT High levels of cash holdings in target segment $25 $14 $6 $4 $1

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At the end of the exercise, you’ll have group-defined priorities

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Go through all cells and re-sort ideas according to the priorities (focus on those that naturally bubbled up based on investment sizes. If you have a large enough team, there will be obvious winners & losers thanks to statistics)

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INTERNAL EXTERNAL STRENGTH WEAKNESS OPPORTUNITIES THREATS Strong existing client relationships Unique domain skills Mature R&D program Sufficiently sized financial war chest Mature R&D program Ahead of the competitors High key-man risk Product-Market fit in new segments Still lack strategic alliances Internal politics & bureaucracy Strong, new entrants Traditional competitors moving down into our segment Labour shortage in local market Weak macro-economics Potential regulatory changes Emerging HNW Insurance segment Maturity of Mobile / Social / IoT High levels of cash holdings in target segment Growth in Asia

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Now it is time to develop actionable SMART objectives using a tows diagram

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smart action items are: S pecific M easurable a chievable R elevant (to strategy) t imely

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In a tows diagram, you shift the swot cells to the outside of a new grid

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STRENGTH Strong existing client relationships Unique domain skills Mature R&D program Sufficiently sized financial war chest WEAKNESS High key-man risk Product-Market fit in new segments OPPORTUNITIES Emerging HNW Insurance segment Maturity of Mobile / Social / IoT THREATS Strong, new entrants Traditional competitors moving down into our segment Labour shortage in local market

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Inside the grid, you are looking to develop SMART action items that leverage the SWOT according to the following rules

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SMART ACTIONS TO USE STRENGTHS TO DELIVER OPPORTUNITY SMART ACTIONS TO ENSURE WEAKNESS DOES NOT UNDERMINE OPPORTUNITY SMART ACTIONS TO USE STRENGTHS TO COUNTER THREATS SMART ACTIONS TO ENSURE WEAKNESS DOES NOT HELP MANIFEST THREAT STRENGTH Strong existing client relationships Unique domain skills Mature R&D program Sufficiently sized financial war chest WEAKNESS High key-man risk Product-Market fit in new segments OPPORTUNITIES Emerging HNW Insurance segment Maturity of Mobile / Social / IoT THREATS Strong, new entrants Traditional competitors moving down into our segment Labour shortage in local market

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Mistake 3 Strategy action items must be SMART

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Good luck, I hope you find SWOT-TOWS useful as you define and evolve your strategy

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