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A SWOT Analysis is a tool for evaluating the strategic environment of a business or other organization. Developed in the 1960s, the technique was designed to solve problems revealed by a long range study. Several American businesses commissioned the Stanford Research Institute study "to investigate why their long range planning efforts were unsuccessful,"
Internal and External Environment
A SWOT analysis scans and evaluates the internal and external environments of a business. Internal factors include issues the organization can influence, such as competence and knowledge of employees; the financial, organizational and shareholder structures; research and development capacities; market position and corporate culture, as unfulfilled customer needs, new technologies, shifts in consumer tastes, increased or decreased regulations, trade barriers and development of substitute products by other firms as examples of factors that cannot be controlled by a firm but affect it from outside.
The S in SWOT stands for the strengths existing in a firm's internal environment. Analyzing these can help a business gain a competitive advantage. Resources such as strong brand names, patents and a good reputation are given as examples of beneficial strengths a business might possess and build upon. Skilled workers, high quality or unique products and high organizational efficiency are also valuable strengths.
An organization must also be aware of its internal weaknesses. Problems are difficult to address unless they have first been identified. Lack of patent protection or strong products, an unfavorable reputation and high costs damage a firm's ability to compete. Internal conflict, a dysfunctional corporate culture and many other factors may hamper success. An unbiased look at weaknesses can clear the way for effective problem solving so that weaknesses can be minimized or even transformed into strengths.
Things happening outside the corporate building can also have profound and far reaching effects on success. Opportunities are outside changes that may benefit your business. Perhaps a new niche market is developing for a product you do or could produce. Demographics or market trends may shift to favor your business. New technologies may infuse your research and development department with fresh energy. A business cannot control these external factors but should be on the alert for ways to exploit them.
On the downside, some external factors pose a threat to your business' continued success. Analyzing changes in economic, regulatory and trade environments, the products developed by your competition and even societal shifts can help an organization prepare strategies to minimize damage from external threats. Frequent assessment of these conditions will help you meet the challenge of remaining competitive in your industry despite unfavorable developments over which you have no control.
A SWOT analysis is only one facet of strategic planning. It helps by identifying factors that may help or hinder success, and especially by clarifying the distinction between internal factors that can be controlled and external factors that cannot. It categorizes these factors in so that they can be practically addressed. The method is well established and proven to be effective as a beginning step in developing overall strategies to maximize the potential of any organization or business.