How to Do a SWOT Analysis in Project Management: Template & Examples
As project managers, we’re lucky to have a full set of tools available to help us approach any project challenge. We have tools that bring our teams together, uncover issues, guide a project to an end, and everything in between. (I’m still waiting on that “easy” button, though!)
Determining what tool should be used in each situation can feel daunting. There are definitely some I pull out for every project, while others collect a bit more dust.
The SWOT analysis is one I’ve left in the toolbox a bit too often. It’s probably not fair though. It’s a great tool that can bring the team together, create transparency around tough issues, and identify key risks and opportunities that will help with project planning.
Let’s take a deeper look to see when and why you should give a SWOT analysis a bigger spotlight in your projects.
What is a SWOT analysis?
A SWOT analysis is a strategic planning tool that allows you and your team to determine organizational strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It’s typically represented as a table or matrix with each element in its own section or quadrant.
A SWOT analysis assesses both internal and external factors:
- Internal factors are aspects within your control. They include skills, assets, resources, and competitive advantages. They are typically the strengths and weaknesses categories in the SWOT matrix.
- External factors are outside of your control. They might be major events, economic changes, marketplace shifts, pandemics, and more. These are the opportunities and threats.
You can use a SWOT analysis to evaluate a project, business plan, content strategy, and even yourself. It’s very adaptable to many situations.
This type of analysis can be useful in project management because it allows you to identify areas of risk and growth within a project or team. From there, you and your team can use those findings to create a strategic plan that improves your chance of project success.
Elements of the SWOT framework with examples
A SWOT analysis is made up of 4 core elements:
- S = Strengths
- W = Weaknesses
- O = Opportunities
- T = Threats
Let’s dive into what each SWOT component means and explore simple examples of each one.
Strengths are factors within your control that will help the project succeed. They might include a person, existing skill set, how the organization is positioned, or a specific aspect about the scoped project. I recommend listing out your strengths first to create a clear understanding of what success looks like and start your SWOT analysis on a positive note.
Examples of project strengths
- Your team has experience delivering a similar custom application.
- The client team has full authority to make decisions.
- Leadership is on board and already started a company-wide digital strategy conversion.
- The budget has contingency built in.
- Your content team is fully staffed for the project.
- Your team has done 4 sites in that vertical in the last year.
- You already have detailed specifications of the product scope.
- A full brand redesign is already complete.
Weaknesses are internal factors that could negatively impact the project and make it difficult to succeed. Some strengths on your list might lead to a clear weakness, while weaknesses can help you identify opportunities in the next step.
Talking about weaknesses can be uncomfortable because no one likes dwelling on the gaps. If you do a SWOT analysis with an external client, let your team know what’s okay to call out in front of the client vs what’s best discussed internally. For example, it's good to alert your client to the fact your team is working on 2 projects at once because it sets clear expectations around your availability and response time.
Examples of project weaknesses
- Your team has never worked together.
- The client has all new leadership.
- Your team is allocated to 2 projects at the same time.
- Your client lacks resources in content, media production, or other areas.
- Your client has multiple levels of stakeholders.
- Project funding is limited and must be spent by a certain date.
- All content needs to pass through the legal department.
- Your team and clients use different project tools.
Opportunities are factors that can help your project succeed—or save it from failure—if correctly executed. The tricky thing is, they’re a bit outside of your control. They might be opportunities that already exist but haven’t been acted on, or they might be future wins that will come with the completion of the project.
Reviewing the strengths and weaknesses you’ve already captured in your SWOT analysis will help you get ideas for this list. Just be sure any opportunities you include are concrete and realistic.
Examples of project opportunities
- Moving a more experienced team member to your project team
- Creating new channels for the company to capture revenue
- Obtaining a discount from a vendor
- Receiving another grant to fund the project
- Hiring someone new on the client side to support the work
- Attending an upcoming conference with access to real users
- Capturing new leads because of the project
Threats are external factors that could hurt the success of your project and are often out of your control. Identifying these factors before the project begins can help you set expectations with your team and stakeholders around potential points of failure.
Examples of project threats
- A competitor is releasing a similar product on a faster timeline.
- The software code base for a section was recently released and could be buggy.
- A project vendor hasn’t been responsive.
- A team member is on maternity leave for 3 months.
- The client won’t give you access to other stakeholders.
- You don’t have access to users (or don’t think it’s important).
What are the benefits of using a SWOT analysis in project management?
A SWOT analysis is a simple yet powerful exercise that can easily flow into a project manager’s strategic planning process. It gives you and your team space to worry and dream and can also bring the project and its variables into more focus.
But how you complete the analysis—and what you do with its findings—determines the true value of the tool. Let’s look at several advantages a SWOT analysis can provide when it’s done right.
Identify (and address) project risks and gaps
Conducting a SWOT analysis enables you to identify areas of weakness and potential project gaps from the start. That way, you can address any concerns with a proactive project plan. Of course, not all risks are factors you can control, but at least knowing them allows you to create a better strategy.
Set a positive tone
Performing a SWOT analysis also gives you the chance to discuss strengths and opportunities. Focusing on the good aspects of your project and team sets a positive tone right from the start. It also shines a light on skills and aspects you might not have realized you have available to you.
Uncover client expectations
As a project manager, I’m always thinking, “But what do they really want?” I know a lot of time goes into the project scope, but the client always forgets to mention something.
Think of your SWOT analysis as a free-form brainstorming session that gives you another chance to listen and learn. It’s always easier to work new insights or hidden scope into the plan at the beginning of a project instead of the middle or end.
Identify new revenue
Doing a SWOT analysis before a project begins can also uncover new project opportunities. While some of these items might be addressed in the current scope, many will not. This opens the door to discuss phase 2 work that could generate additional revenue for both you and the client.
Establish a framework for red flags
When reviewing a project’s contract scope, I always find red flags—those pesky items that keep every project manager up at night.
A SWOT analysis makes it easy to sneak those concerns in with the positives so you don’t have to be a downer in your first meetings. It also gives others a chance to raise red flags so the bad news isn’t always coming from you. Discussing these upfront makes everyone aware of the risks, not just select stakeholders.
Build a foundation for team communication
Completing this activity as a team with different levels of stakeholders from both sides can set the stage for effective communication. Establishing an open, transparent, direct, and welcoming environment early on can help everyone navigate future conversations—no matter how tricky.
It also builds a culture of collaborative problem-solving. As a project manager, you might feel like you have to solve all the hard issues yourself. But creating a team approach can lift some of that weight right off your shoulders.
When should you skip a SWOT analysis?
While a SWOT analysis can be a useful planning tool in project management, other tools are too. So when does it make sense to leave this tool in the toolbox?
Here are a few reasons a SWOT analysis might not be a productive use of your time.
You lack stakeholder access
Sometimes a client limits your access to their team, leaving you with only 1-2 people to talk to on the client side. If you can’t pull a diverse group of stakeholders together from both sides, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to build a comprehensive and effective SWOT matrix.
You and/or your client can’t be honest
The reality is, you won’t have an open and transparent relationship with every client. It might be because they’re new or have a different culture of communication in their organization. Or maybe your sales team committed to a project they shouldn’t have.
Whatever the reason, if you or your client can’t be transparent about weaknesses and threats, your SWOT analysis won’t be very useful.
You have limited resources
If your budget is small, you likely have limited resources to complete the project—and that includes your own time as a project manager.
While conducting a SWOT analysis workshop is a relatively quick task, it’s not going to be effective unless you spend time creating and executing an action plan afterwards. If you can’t reasonably take action on what you may uncover, go ahead and skip the SWOT analysis.
You’re working with a repeat client
If you’ve worked with a client several times before and don’t appear to be solving a new, hard problem—or approaching a new product or revenue stream—there’s no need to go through the motions of a SWOT exercise.
Your project has an unclear scope
Are you managing a project with muddy goals and a scope that’s constantly changing (even though somehow a contract got signed)? If so, it’s best to put all your energy into workshops and tools that focus on clearly defining what you’re doing. In my experience, projects like these just lead to vague SWOTs anyway.
How to do a SWOT analysis for a project
There’s no wrong way to complete a SWOT analysis. It just depends on the project and the preferences of your team and stakeholders. Just be sure whatever process you use effectively brings everyone together.
Here are the key steps I recommend taking to execute a good SWOT analysis.
1. Identify your SWOT analysis goal
Every good process starts with a clear goal. If you know why you’re doing a SWOT analysis and what you hope to achieve, you can tailor your approach and conversations accordingly. This clarity might even lead you to other tools in your project manager toolbox that will help you reach your goals.
2. Determine your stakeholders
Next, figure out who needs to participate in the SWOT analysis for you to achieve your goal. While there might be times you need to do this exercise quickly on your own, working as a team that includes both internal and external stakeholders will give you a more comprehensive analysis.
Participants should represent different groups at all levels of the organization to bring a full and diverse perspective. They should also be willing to participate fully, honestly, and kindly in the conversation and be open to talking about some tough topics. For example, someone might have a role in a weakness or threat that ends up on the list. If people aren’t willing to dig in, you’ll end up with a surface-level analysis that’s less useful.
Including more people in the conversion will encourage teamwork and transparency—all things you want for the rest of your project. Of course, too many people could cause chaos and a lack of focus, so shoot for around 10 or fewer participants.
3. Identify which tool you’ll use for the SWOT analysis
Next, decide where you’ll create your SWOT analysis. Many folks love working within the classic SWOT matrix, and you can easily create one using Word or PowerPoint.
If you’re conducting your workshop remotely—or want folks to add ideas before, during, or after the meeting—consider using a collaborative tool instead. You could use an interactive whiteboard tool to create a shared matrix or set up a list or Kanban board in TeamGantt. What’s nice about a tool like TeamGantt is you can immediately transform items from your SWOT analysis into tasks with deadlines and responsibilities assigned.
4. Prepare your team
One of the most important steps you can take is effectively preparing your team for the workshop. I have to admit, I’ve been lazy about this step at times in the past, but it’s really critical if you want people to be successful in the meeting.
Send the team attending the SWOT analysis workshop the following items ahead of time:
- The goal of the SWOT analysis
- Why they’ve been chosen to participate in the workshop
- An explanation of how the SWOT analysis will work
- What they should do to prepare for the meeting and how much time they need to set aside to prep
- Access to the tool you’ll use to conduct the SWOT analysis so they can get in and comfortable with it beforehand
- Next steps they can expect after the meeting (even if it doesn’t involve them)
- Gratitude in advance for their thoughts, respect, and time
5. Conduct the SWOT analysis workshop
Use this workshop to brainstorm project strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats as a team. Guide the discussion to make sure the thoughts are clear and specific. If more information has to be gathered for a couple of items after the meeting, that’s okay, but the majority shouldn’t need follow-up.
Since I include both my team and the client in a project SWOT analysis, I like to keep the format simple. While I talk about the concept of internal vs external factors, I don’t build my matrix or workshop around it. In my experience, it’s just another layer for folks to process. Participants should be focused on brainstorming—not figuring out how to work within a complex framework.
Try to fill in 2-3 items for each box of the SWOT matrix ahead of time to jump start the conversation. If the room gets quiet, give folks 10 minutes to gather thoughts and then share back. You could also use starter questions like the ones below to get ideas rolling.
Example questions to guide your SWOT analysis workshop
- What do your customers love about what you do?
- Does anyone have expertise in this subject or scope?
- What resources are available in-house?
- What advantages do you have over your competitors?
- What do your customers dislike about what you do?
- Could any organizational factors negatively impact this project?
- Are there any gaps in team or project knowledge?
- Do you have any hard limits on the project (e.g., timeline, budget, scope)?
- What can you do to compete better in your market?
- What resource changes or additions would help you?
- What tools will help you be effective?
- Can you help other areas of the business?
- Do other business initiatives depend on project completion and success? If so, how?
- Are your competitors doing anything related to your project?
- Are you working with any new or untested tools or software?
- Do you rely on any outside vendors?
6. Prioritize and confirm
In this step, you’ll want to rank the factors from most to least important. Since time is usually limited, I focus on prioritizing the opportunities and threats lists.
Questions like these can help you weigh the importance of each item on your list:
- Will it impact the project the most?
- Is it something you can actually do something about?
- Are there things you can’t address unless the project has more budget?
You can either jump into prioritization at the end of your brainstorming session or tackle it online as a team after your SWOT workshop.
Once you feel good about the priorities you’ve set, clean up your SWOT analysis document, and send it to all your stakeholders to confirm everyone’s on the same page.
7. Create and execute an action plan
Now it’s time to create a clear plan of action to execute on. Your to-do list might only take a couple of weeks to knock out, or it might take longer to work through. Either way, you’ll want to jump on an action plan quickly to show participants you took their feedback seriously and are committed to making the project a success.
It’s probably easiest to start with the internal SWOT factors you have control over, so focus on maximizing strengths and mitigating weaknesses first. Your action plan might include rearranging your team, finding a new tool, adding more resources, talking to sales, or more.
Once these internal factors are in motion, take a look at the threats and opportunities that are more outside of your control. Work closely with your primary stakeholder or client-side project manager to determine the best course of action, including how you’ll handle any new opportunities or threats that may arise.
After you have a game plan, schedule any necessary meetings. Then create a clear plan with deadlines, and assign tasks to team members. Using an online project planner like TeamGantt makes it easy to communicate priorities to your team and report back to stakeholders so they know what steps have been taken and what’s to come.
8. Monitor and revisit your SWOT strategy
If time allows, go back to your SWOT analysis throughout the project, as well as at the end. See if you’re accomplishing what you set out to do or if you have room to tackle any additional items now.
Self-reflection and solid data can help you hone your skills as a project manager and improve projects over time.
SWOT analysis example
To help you get a better understanding of how this process might work, let’s take a look at a sample SWOT analysis for a new marketing website build. Our example project also features a large lead-capture component that connects to Salesforce.
- Our development team has completed several Salesforce integrations.
- This project is a top priority for the client. Leadership has given staff permission to set other initiatives aside to help with the project.
- The core team has been through a website redesign in the past.
- The strategists are available right now and can jump into discovery and research.
- The new brand has already been created and approved, and all website assets are available.
- We don’t have much user data or feedback collected yet.
- The timeline is immovable.
- This is the project’s first phase, so the full team has not worked together.
- The company’s top 3 leadership positions changed in the last 6 months.
- The best new feature of the project won’t be ready until launch, so no video or images will be available for the website.
- The client has strict security procedures, and we need to work solely in Microsoft to share documents. However, our team is used to using Google.
- The Salesforce implementation contractor has offered to scale up their team to help implement the tool quickly.
- The client views this launch as phase 1 and has funding for 2 more phases.
- If the dev team gets stuck on another project, we have other dev team members we can move over to start all builds, except the Salesforce integration.
- For another project, our team created a revenue-generating resource library. It could be another source of income.
- We’ve identified that 75% of site visitors don’t go past the homepage.
- The client doesn’t like their current workflow for lead capture, but they’re arguing internally about how it should change.
- The client has not used Salesforce before.
- The client’s main competitor just launched a new, sleek website.
- The launch date is set for 4 months. We think the project needs 6 months.
- Launch is expected to happen right after the December holidays.
- Our dev team has another project to wrap up before starting this project, and it’s been known to miss all its deadlines.
While the matrix format provides a nice visual in the meeting, it doesn’t transition nicely into your next steps as a project manager. Here’s how you might adapt this example to a Kanban board that allows you to prioritize action items easily, assign deadlines and people to tasks, add notes, etc.
Free SWOT analysis templates
If you're looking for a SWOT analysis template, a free one is always a great place to start. We created a few different options to help you save time preparing for and creating a SWOT analysis of your own.
- SWOT analysis planner template [PDF]: Use these example questions to guide discussions around project strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
- SWOT analysis template [Word]: Download this editable SWOT analysis template to create a simple one-page matrix for your project.
- SWOT analysis template [PowerPoint]: Use this SWOT analysis template to present your final analysis to your project team and/or stakeholders.
Take easy action on your SWOT analysis with TeamGantt
Once your analysis is done, transform action items into a plan that’s easy to schedule, manage, and track. Check out our free project template hub for ideas you can use to get your plan off the ground faster.
About the author: Lynn Winter
Lynn is a freelance Digital Strategist who combines 20+ years of experience in content strategy, user experience, and project management to bring a holistic approach to her work. She has spoken at numerous local and national conferences and hosts an annual conference for Digital Project Managers called Manage Digital (http://managedigital.io/). You can connect with her at lynnwintermn.com.