Tools & Methods

How to do a SWOT Action Analysis

SWOT (Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities and Threats) Analysis is a simple but surprisingly effective technique to assess an organisations positioning and begin the process of turning general ideas for market growth into actionable activities. This brief guide shows how to extend the simple SWOT concept into a tool for defining the actions needed to deal with external threats and internal weaknesses in the organisations capabilities.

The process is best done within a workshop concept. So organise a team meeting of around 7 to 10 interested parties who are experts or knowledgeable in the domain to be considered.

The process:

Step 1 – First agree the area to be considered and the core assumptions. For example ‘we will consider the Softhouse organisation and the opportunities to grow the market in the States.

Step 2 – Use a brainstorming technique such as nominal group and ask the team first to think about the area we have chosen and what the issues in delivering this approach are. They write down (on their own) what could be the barriers or carriers to entering the new market in the States onto post-it notes or just make a list on paper before them.

Step 3 – They place their post it notes (or the facilitator) in turn onto the grid as shown in the diagram below – barriers to threats and carriers to opportunities.

Step 4 – Brainstorm as in step 2 and consider the organisation (Softhouse) and what are its unique strengths or capabilities and its weaknesses. The team on their own write down onto post-it notes their ideas as before.

Step 5 – They place their post-it notes (or the facilitator) in turn onto the grid as shown in the diagram – strengths to strengths and weaknesses to weaknesses.

Step 6 – The team then consider the crossing points of the SWOT for example between Threats and Strengths below (top left box) and as shown in the diagram think of specific actions to use strengths to counter any threats. These are written onto post it notes as before and placed in turn into the grid.

Step 7 – The facilitator tidies up the board removing duplicates or clarifying actions that have been written down. The board actions are then agreed prioritized then transferred to a standard action plan template.

Table One SWOT action analysis

Example Swot Action Analysis

Here is an example taken from an early draft of a business plan to illustrate the completed board. From here the actions can be taken across to a standard action plan template and owners and timescales applied. Thus from an initial consideration of the external and internal environment we can quite quickly move to a position where we can see possible practical actions we can take to move the agenda forward.


The Project Audit Check List

Project Audit – A check List

The primary purpose of a project audit is to find the reasons for apparent failings in the project process, and answer:

  • What is the current state of the project
  • Is the project going to deliver something useful that meets requirements?
  • Is the technical approach being used still appropriate
  • Is the business case still valid?
  • Is the project organised in an effective way
  • Is the project context hindering or helping progress
  • Are industry standard project processes being followed
  • Is the project following industry best practice development methods?
  • What should be changed to improve the project focus?

The output of a project audit will be the answers to these questions and a practical assessment what can be done to improve and fix problems?

Areas of investigation

Project management

  • Does the project communicate effectively with its sponsors and other stakeholders
  • Are decisions taken rationally and quickly?
  • Does the management team have appropriate skills and experience?
  • Project organisation and staffing
  • Is the project divided into effective work units (teams)?
  • Is there capacity within the team to handle the workload?
  • Are the teams located appropriately?
  • Are roles and responsibilities identified and clear?
  • Are internal and external communications effective?
  • Does the staff have appropriate skills and experience to do the job?
  • Is staff working in a suitable physical environment?

Project processes

  • Are project controls in place?
  • How are work-packages identified and allocated?
  • How is progress managed?
  • How is change managed?
  • Is proper version and configuration management in place?

Project planning and reporting

  • What kind of plan is there?
  • Is the level of detail appropriate?
  • How has the plan been validated and agreed?
  • How is progress against plan reported?
  • Where is the project against the agreed plan and what are the reasons for deviations?
  • Are the exception plans in place?
  • Is the project actually at the point where progress reports say it is?
  • How feasible is achieving the future goals in the plan?

Technology choice and usage

  • What tools and technologies are being used?
  • Why were these tools and technologies selected?
  • Is the selection in line with industry best practice?
  • Are appropriate skill-sets available to manage technology set?

System architecture

  • How do the pieces that make up the solution fit together?
  • Can the solution meet the quality requirements (speed, load, reliability? etc.)?
  • How are technical decisions made? Is there a design authority?
  • How are technical decisions recorded?
  • How is technical feasibility demonstrated?

Functional requirements

  • What is the requirements analysis process?
  • How are users involved in the process?
  • Are the requirements clear, complete and consistent?

Software design

  • How are functional requirements turned into solutions?
  • What kind of design documents is produced?

Code quality

  • Are coding standards in place and followed?
  • Is the code clear, efficient and well-organised?


  • What kinds of testing are carried out?
  • What testing strategy is in place?
  • How is testing planned and managed?
  • Is there a “test to fail” or “test driven” philosophy?
  • Is testing automated?
  • How are test cases identified?
  • What kinds of test tools are used?


The Five Intercultural Negotiation Skills

Intercultural Negotiation
As the world becomes increasingly connected, people both at home and in travels abroad, must consider the important issue of intercultural negotiation.  This post is a primer for use by readers in learning about this issue.

The Intercultural Dimension:

All cultures have their own preferred styles and strategies for dealing with and managing conflict.  Yet it is quite difficult to be culture-specific when discussion how to deal effectively with cross-cultural conflicts.  Nevertheless, there are some general skills involved in cross-cultural negotiation and conflict management that can be highlighted.
A basic requirement for effective conflict management and negotiation is to know as much as possible about the other culture(s).  Although experiential knowledge is preferable, research of the culture, norms, values, history, society etc. can be very helpful. The most significant feature of good cross-cultural relations, as most cross-cultural sources will indicate, involves avoiding stereotypes.  Although certain generalizations may be fairly assessed in regard to how certain cultures deal with conflict, individual differences should always be considered as paramount.  In fact, some cultural specialists suggest that all conflicts are intercultural to an extent, since each individual person has their own personal history and experience, their own set of beliefs, values and assumptions, and ultimately, their own set of “survival skills.”

The Successful Intercultural Negotiator:
Successful intercultural negotiators are always cognizant of the fact that people do, indeed, feel, think and behave differently, while at the same time, they are equally logical and rational.  Stated differently, competent intercultural negotiators recognize the differences between people while simultaneously appreciating the intrinsic rationality behind such divergent feelings thoughts and behaviors.  That is to say, individuals, groups, communities, organizations and even nation states possess diverse values, beliefs and assumptions that make sense from their own perspective.  Thus, effective intercultural negotiators are sensitive to the fact that each person perceives, discovers, and constructs reality — the internal and external world – in varied yet meaningful ways.  They understand that difference is not threatening; indeed, it is positive, so long as the differences are managed properly.
Five Intercultural Negotiation Skills:

  1. EMPATHY – To be able to see the world as other people see it.  To understand the behavior of others from their perspectives.
  2. ABILITY TO DEMONSTRATE ADVANTAGES of what one proposes so that counterparts in the negotiation will be willing to change their positions.
  3. ABILITY TO MANAGE STRESS AND COPE WITH AMBIGUITY as well as unpredictable demands.
  4. ABILITY TO EXPRESS ONE’S OWN IDEAS in ways that the people with whom one negotiates will be able to objectively and fully understand the objectives and intentions at stake.
  5. SENSITIVITY to the cultural background of others along with an ability to adjust one’s objectives and intentions in accordance with existing constraints and limitations.

Eight Mistakes to Avoid in Intercultural Negotiation:

Eight Mistakes to Avoid in Intercultural Negotiation:

  1. Avoid looking at everything from your own definition of what is “rational,” “logical” and “scientific.”
  2. Avoid pressuring the other party with a point that he/she is not readily prepared to accept; wait for a more favorable time.
  3. Avoid looking at issues from the narrow perspective of self-interest.
  4. Avoid asking for concessions or compromised which are politically or culturally sensitive; you will not succeed with this kind of approach.
  5. Avoid adhering to your agenda if the other party appears to have a different set of priorities.
  6. Avoid speaking in jargon (i.e. using colloquialisms), which can confuse the other party and even create a feeling of mistrust.
  7. Avoid passing over levels of authority in manners that compromise the sensibilities of middle level officials.  The top tier of the hierarchy may have the power to commit the organization or governing entity, but implementation will require the support of people at intermediate and lower levels.
  8. Avoid asking for a decision when you know that the other party is not able to commit.

Don’t forget to use your Email Signature for Free Advertising and Promotion

A big part of your business comes from your email so it makes sense to advertise your products and/or services with every email that you send out. You can do this by having an email signature or ‘Signature Tag’ in your email. Outlook and most email clients (including allow you to set up your ‘Sig Tag’ so it is automatically added to each and every email going out, including replies and forwards. We often add our Facebook or LinkedIn tag in the signature – but why not make it more productive and advertise your products!

For example, in Outlook 2010, go to the home tab ‘File’ up on top left (first tab), and then select Options (usually on the bottom). When the options page opens select Email then click on the ‘Signatures’. Here you can create several signatures for different email addresses if you like or for different actions (like in a reply or in a forward). This way, you could have a certain ‘Sig Tag’ for your email groups and another one for your personal email and so on. For Outlook Express, go to Tools and then Options – then you click the Signatures tab on top of the box. In (new live mail) click on the ‘Gear Wheel’ on the right then select ‘More Email Settings’

A few things you want to remember when composing your signature:
1. Do not make it into a novel- no more than a few lines to get your message across.
2. Try to capture email addresses for follow-up sales and contacts if you have an ezine.
3. Offer something free that people can click and get – but make it as few clicks as possible.

Here are some examples of sigtags:
Free download will help increase sales

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Subscribe to my free ezine to help improve your biz
Thank you,
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Don’t pass up the chance to advertise and/or promote your products and/or services with every email you send! Change your ‘sigtag’ periodically to feature your current specials or sales or holiday events.

Let’s do this today!

Doing a Feasibility Study

Is your project feasible?

The best way to find out whether your project is feasible is to complete a Feasibility Study. This process helps you gain confidence that the solution you need to build can be implemented on time and under budget. So here’s how to do it in 5 simple steps…

Completing a Feasibility Study

A Feasibility Study needs to be completed as early in the Project Life Cycle as possible. The best time to complete it is when you have identified a range of different alternative solutions and you need to know which solution is the most feasible to implement. Here’s how to do it…

Step 1: Research the Business Drivers
In most cases, your project is being driven by a problem in the business. These problems are called “business drivers” and you need to have a clear understanding of what they are, as part of your Feasibility Study.
For instance, the business driver might be that an IT system is outdated and is causing customer complaints, or that two businesses need to merge because of an acquisition. Regardless of the business driver, you need to get to the bottom of it so you fully understand the reasons why the project has been kicked off.
Find out why the business driver is important to the business, and why it’s critical that the project delivers a solution to it within a specified timeframe. Then find out what the impact will be to the business, if the project slips.

Step 2: Confirm the Alternative Solutions
Now you have a clear understanding of the business problem that the project addresses, you need to understand the alternative solutions available.
If it’s an IT system that is outdated, then your alternative solutions might include redeveloping the existing system, replacing it or merging it with another system.
Only with a clear understanding of the alternative solutions to the business problem, can you progress with the Feasibility Study.

Step 3: Determine the Feasibility
You now need to identify the feasibility of each solution. The question to ask of each alternative solution is “can we deliver it on time and under budget?”
To answer this question, you need to use a variety of methods to assess the feasibility of each solution. Here are some examples of ways you can assess feasibility:

Research: Perform online research to see if other companies have implemented the same solutions and how they got on.
Prototyping: Identify the part of the solution that has the highest risk, and then build a sample of it to see if it’s possible to create.
Time-boxing: Complete some of the tasks in your project plan and measure how long it took vs. planned. If you delivered it on time, then you know that your planning is quite accurate.

Step 4: Choose a Preferred Solution
With the feasibility of each alternative solution known, the next step is to select a preferred solution to be delivered by your project. Choose the solution that; is most feasible to implement, has the lowest risk, and you have the highest confidence of delivering.
You’ve now chosen a solution to a known business problem, and you have a high degree of confidence that you can deliver that solution on time and under budget, as part of the project.

Step 5:
It’s now time to take your chosen solution and reassess its feasibility at a lower level. List all of the tasks that are needed to complete the solution. Then run those tasks by your team to see how long they think it will take to complete them. Add all of the tasks and timeframes to a project plan to see if you can do it all within the project deadline. Then ask your team to identify the highest risk tasks and get them to investigate them further to check that they are achievable. Use the techniques in Step 3 to give you a very high degree of confidence that it’s practically achievable. Then document all of the results in a Feasibility Study.

After completing these 5 steps, get your Feasibility Study approved by your manager so that everyone in the project team has a high degree of confidence that the project can deliver successfully.

Get Some Templates Here for Free

Running a marketing planning workshop

Marketing Planning

The process involves a series of workshops where knowledge and ideas are generated, gaps in understanding acknowledged and actions agreed to acquire the missing information for the following workshop. A marketing template is completed including action plans with clear responsibilities and dates for completion. The process also includes agreement on priorities and specific measurements for success.

At all times the focus is on what we need to understand to increase our sales revenue. Weaknesses and threats must be acknowledged and counter-attacks created. Apparent criticisms should not be taken personally (easier said than done, but important to be aware of). Similarly, criticisms should not be made at a personal level; we are all working toward the same goals. We need to be honest about our individual, group, and organizational strengths and weaknesses.

For agreed cases we will try to truncate the process, to focus on immediate market planning concerns. Generally there is a need to focus on key potential unique selling points and try to get a clear understanding of how to emphasise these and raise demand, exploit strengths and counter-attack the competition.

The workshop(s) will ideally cover:

  1. A clear understanding of our internal strengths and weaknesses, external opportunities and threats. This will include assessment of knowledge, skills and capabilities, internal influencing factors, strategic intent, alliances and current/past client experience.
  2. The specific market for our type of products; potential by segment.
  3. The general and specific competition for our product range; current and future; their strengths and weaknesses; where are they going and why; how do we compare?
  4. Future scenario focus – what are the implications of possible market/competitor/client changes? What are the risks of our taking specific approaches? What contingencies should we set in place?

The devil in the detail – Therefore… exactly what is our value proposition? Exactly how do we communicate this? To whom? Through which medium?

Market Planning Process - Workshop Scheme
Market Planning Process - Workshop Scheme

How to facilitate a successful meeting – a checklist

The Meeting Facilitators Checklist

  • Objectivity – It is critical to remain objective at all times. Do not be tempted to respond to or defend anything said. The focus should be on listening, acknowledging, probing for understanding and root cause, and tracking.
  • Confidentiality – Assure participants that their comments will be reported anonymously.
  • Candor – Emphasize the need for an open and honest discussion. The goal is to uncover real concerns and recommend appropriate solutions.
  • Participation – Everyone needs to be actively involved. A fast and steady pace, the use of brainstorming, and encouraging participants to contribute will all serve this purpose.
  • Agenda – Move quickly through the discussion of implementation risks, but ask participants to raise issues and questions as needed. Focus the discussion on specific recommendations that address the implementation risks.
  • Legitimacy – This session is designed to identify problems and develop potential solutions. The focus should be on idea creation, not criticism.
  • Have Fun! – This is discussion a between and among participants, not just between them and the facilitator. Follow the agenda but keep the discussion informal.

Facilitator Do’s and Don’ts –

  • Do express the objectives of the session.
  • Do explain your role as facilitator.
  • Do point out the time available.
  • Do know something about the group before starting.
  • Do encourage participation.
  • Do use open-ended questions.
  • Do thank individuals for their input.
  • Do use flip-charts to record inputs, when possible.
  • Do ask for clarification.
  • Do gain some consensus after all ideas are offered.
  • Do gain closure – may mean asking group to prioritize.
  • Don’t evaluate input as good or bad.
  • Don’t stop someone in the middle of their thought.
  • Don’t argue or defend a point.
  • Don’t try to respond during the brainstorming section – save it for Q&A.

Ways to increase group participation –

  • Effective use of open-ended questions.
  • Allow enough time for participants to think and respond.
  • Acknowledge all responses.
  • Let a participant finish speaking before moving on.
  • Face the group and move about freely.
  • Keep the discussion focused on the agenda.
  • Make eye contact frequently, especially with those who seem disinterested, or those taking part in side conversations.
  • Ask for clarification when a response is unclear. Examples: “Tell me more…” ” Can you rephrase that?”
  • Keep on schedule.

Useful tips to keep the discussion moving:

  • Thank you.
  • Tell me more about what you said (or what you mean).
  • Repeat that in a few words so I can capture your thought on the flip-chart.
  • How do others of you feel about that?
  • Let me see if I can repeat that back to you.
  • Feel free to add as we go.

Special problems:

  • Someone dominates – Look into eyes of other participants, say “That’s interesting, how do others feel about that?”
  • Loss of control/off-subject – Stop the discussion, and say “It appears we may be getting off subject. Let me ask you about this….” and return to the issues on the agenda.
  • Non-participants – Make eye contact. Encourage their participation, by saying, “We may not have given you an opportunity to say what’s on your mind…we’d appreciate your ideas too.
  • Side conversations – Make eye contact, direct questions to them, or ask them politely to join the group so everyone will have the benefit of hearing all comments.
  • Out of time – Say “We seem to be running out of time and we want to honor our time commitment. There have been lots of great questions and ideas coming out.” Then, either provide the phone numbers of presenter/facilitator and suggest people call with their thoughts, OR suggest they write down a few thoughts and leave them with you, OR offer a summary point or two and say that’s all the time we have today.
  • Cold climate – Suggest an introductory activity. For example, if time permits, ask each person to introduce themselves and share one thing about themselves that another person couldn’t.

Guide to deploying objectives to staff departments

Deploying objectives in a department

Objective setting is a vital part of appraising and managing employees. Both managers and subordinates should be aware of what the objectives are for the current period as well as be working on new draft objectives for the next period prior to discussing them during a future appraisal meeting – where objectives for the forthcoming period can be documented and agreed.

How to set objectives:

A Manager will have her own set of business objectives and it is the responsibilities of staff to support her in achieving these. Staff should make sure that their manager communicates the objectives to the team and from this they should then be able to define their own goals contributing towards the overall team’s success.

The first task is to identify the results that you as a staffer are responsible for achieving rather than the actual work activity leading to those results. Where possible attempt to quantify or include a definite assessment point like a sign-off when successful completion occurs.

The following are examples of possible required results:

  • Project delivered on or under time and within budget
  • The delivered signed of business case of the project
  • Reduced operating costs of the department
  • New sales at the required margin
  • Reduced call stack on the service desk
  • Improved service levels
  • Positive feedback from customers
  • Increased profit margin
  • Reduced expenses

Then you will need to consider the key elements which show how the objectives will be achieved and what changes in behaviour or action is needed to deliver them. Try to ensure that the objectives represent clear business related targets that contribute to your organization’s success. Wherever possible the objectives should be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound. Qualitative measures are also good and achievement can be confirmed from interviewing customers for example or by discussing performance with peers. The important point is to come up with an approach that enables in a clear way to demonstrate that you have by your action achieved the set goals.

Sample Business Objectives at staff level:

  • Ten new customers at an average contract value of will be signed in the next quarter
  • Sales of $100,000 of extra service revenue in the financial year from additional requirements
  • To reduce in the number of calls on the call queue outstanding by more than 5 days by 50% in three months.
  • To respond to a request for change within 5 working days from receipt of documented change note.
  • Increase the hit rate on customer enquiries to closed deal to 25% of all leads in one year.
  • To score ‘satisfied’ to ‘very satisfied’ in all post project assessments in the year.
  • To complete all invoicing to customers by 5 days after the month end close.


Contract template Services

Simple Contract template for Consulting Services

I have loaded a simple contract template for consulting services – mostly clients will have a template already in hand from procurement. If you do not have anything you may find this one useful. It is pretty basic but contains the essential elements. I’ll post an affiliate version is there is any demand.