November 24, 2013

Taking SWOT personally –self-diagnosing to successfully reach feasible personal objectives

It’s not enough to set personal goals and objectives, even if they are targeted at what I really want to reach in life. It’s also not enough to set out on our journey based only on our vision. One of the most important things is to understand what I have that will help me succeed and what I should avoid. And that is also not always enough. For most of us, it’s not easy to distinguish between our internal means and obstacles and the external, environmental powers that have potential to help us grow or get in our way. And more so, it’s important to align internal and external forces to help us get things done.

This distinction, the ability to see all the pieces of the puzzle and deduce a course of action is what the SWOT tool enables. In fact, with SWOT as a preliminary tool and some agile guidelines, achieving our personal objectives can become quite a simple task.

So what is SWOT?

SWOT is another of many tools that lets us discover our strengths and abilities. It is used by organizations around the world to asses strategic decisions, organizational capabilities, possible directions, products and more.

Let’s take a look at the SWOT definition from Wikipedia:

Strength   Weaknesses   Opportunities   Threats 

SWOT analysis aim to identify the key internal and external factors seen as important to achieving an objective. The factors come from within a company's unique value chain SWOT analysis groups key pieces of information into two main categories:
1.     Internal factors – the strengths and weaknesses internal to the organization
2.     External factors – the opportunities and threats presented by the environment external to the organization 

SWOT is not limited for use by business organizations. This wonderful tool can be used on a personal and team level as well.

So the benefits of SWOT are that it can take all the factors - internal and external, positive and negative - and use them to help us focus on a realistic plan to achieve our goals.

So let’s get started:


1. Our initial assumption is that we have a vision or end-goal we want to reach.

2. Creating the famous SWOT matrix:
Draw it on a sheet of paper, or better yet on a whiteboard - and place it somewhere that will be visible to you most of the time (maybe on the refrigerator, or on a wall in the living room, or on the billboard in your study?)

This is what it looks like:

3. Understanding: I’ll ask myself questions relating to my end-goal or vision. I’ll write the answers on post-its and stick them in the proper quadrant of my SWOT board.

The first part is questions about me - S, W

* S: Regarding my vision, what are my strengths? What makes me unique and advantageous in this event? Is it knowledge? Experience? Good physical condition, money, family support? etc...
* W: Regarding my vision, what are my weaknesses? What do I lack that I need to go forth, that originates from me? Lack of experience? Lack of knowledge? Low self-esteem? Lack of family support? etc...

The second part contains questions about my external surroundings - O, T
* O: Regarding my vision, what opportunities exist? Is there a specific job opening that just opened up? Political situation? Family? Financial? etc..
* T: regarding my vision, what threats may there be? What will hold me back? Is it starting from lower position? Income? Residents?

** it is recommended that you take those questions and get some feedback from your soundings. Show them your SWOT and ask them what they would say about you regarding these questions. I know it’s its not that easy, but true outside feedback is something very important. It gives a different point of view over the issues at stake for me. And you may be surprise how others see your strengths , weaknesses and how they related to threats that may be different from what you initially thought.

Let’s take a simple career change example as in the following image:

**few words on visibility: the probability to get things done increase when I see the things I need to do. When I see it, I can relate to it, I can relate to it more often and it will probably catch my attention more than other things around. If you really want to take SWOT from theory to action, make it visible. leave out the pen and paper and take it to the level where it is visible where you most needs to see it.

4. The analysis: Examine, ask ourselves few questions related to our vision.

·         Our goal at this stage is to understand how we can use our internal straights toward achieving our vision.
·         Furthermore, we would like to get the full picture over the situation.
·         We would like to start taking actions, set some goals as part of our journey  toward achieving our vision
·         The answers we give , should be completely subjective to us (the owner of the SWOT)

So.. let’s ask them:
·         How can I take my straights and take advantage over the opportunities in my journey toward achieving my vision?
·         What is the best way to use my straights so I can reduce the threat?
·         How can I make sure, my weaknesses will not hold me back from the opportunities ahead?
·         How can I reduce the threats and weaknesses so they will less influence me in my journey towards my vision?
·         How do I overcome threats in general
·         How do I use the opportunities, and when?

5. building the most basic building blocks for  the journey .

·         According to what we’ve learned in the previous steps, Create a list of all the tasks, goals you need to do/archive.
·         Add this list to your task board
·         Select few of the tasks to take as action in the near time frame (or sprint)

A good execution may be that we take one or two actions, examine them in our day to day reality and then go back to the SWOT and see if something has changed.

Few important guidelines for the way :

·         SWOT as presented here is not a judgmental tool. It is a personal and subjective tool therefore, it is highly important that the SWOT owner will understand his board as it reflects his own subjective reality.
·         Visibility – Make sure you see what you need to do and where you‘re at. Place the SWOT board in a location where you can relate to it frequently.
·         Since SWOT is not just a onetime evaluation tool, make sure to revisit your SWOT and change it accordingly. Did I gain some more straights? Do I have new opportunities? Did I eliminate threats? Improvement will happen when we will create the routine of continues change and continues improvement.
·         Pick your relevant execution actions according to their highest value for you. There is no need to take to action all the SWOT tasks at once.
·         Start small! Take one step at a time. Sometimes it’s enough to understand something “just enough” and start executing, instead of examining endless options and sides of the same situation. Anyway, the most important feedback will start flowing once you start executing your actions.
If you’ve taken to execute an action related to weaknesses or straights, start small. Small tasks are easy to get done, easier to get feedback, has a good impact over the feeling of success and achievement and..if you fail, you fail small.
·         There are many ways to achieve your goals and vision –SWOT is just one of them.

References and further reading

●     Humphrey, Albert (December 2005). "SWOT Analysis for Management Consulting"SRI Alumni Newsletter (SRI International).

November 03, 2013

My most effective time to get things done

My most effective time to get things done
Beyond the fact that I hold a backlog including all those tasks I need to do, I do need to get them done in the most effective and efficient way. With all other things I need to consider and plan I also need to pay attention to the timing of those tasks. After all, there are tasks that are bounded by time. For instance, what good it will do to brush my teeth and then eat a good meal just before going to bed and not the other way around? 

As part of the agile method and especially when implementing scrum, we are used to stop at the end of every sprint (iteration), look ahead and plan our coming sprint tasks. This is also a good opportunity to take a look at those tasks timing and reflect over the best time to execute them. There may be a verity of reasons to execute tasks in a specific time frame or another, after all each of us holds different goals, tasks and time considerations.

As in any new techniques, we don’t have to start using it if we have no problem executing our tasks. It really aims to those tasks that needs a special timing consideration such as :  an outstanding bunch of tasks; Tasks that require a special concentration; Tasks that holds dependencies to other tasks; Tasks that holds progress from other activities and many more…

All you have to do is:

  • Look ahead and identify those most effective time frames (according to the task time, urgency, needs, time frame limitations, priority…)

Ask yourself, what are my best weekdays to perform those tasks? What is my best time of day to perform those tasks?
It may happen that in each week there are different time and week days to perform the same tasks.
For example:
Maybe you are a morning/night person? So there are types of tasks that demand a high level of concentration that you want to perform at this time frame only.
Will it be easier to address emails at the beginning of my working day or at the end of it? Maybe both? Or maybe if I just take few thin slices of time during the day to cover the accumulating amount of emails and messages will be the best timing for this task? (BTW , the last one is my favorite)
There are tasks that weekdays and day time will enforce our timing, such as…the best time to work with my sun over his final class assignment will be the weekend.  Or , the best time to walk the dog is in the morning, otherwise…

  • The next step will be to Create visibility to those most effective hours.A task board with special time zones may be great, or tasks divided according to weekdays and more…
  • Act accordingly.
  • Make sure to retrospect over the effective and efficient of the performance of those tasks according to the time frame set. If needed, change it.
  • And as always, don’t forget to have fun.

Lets take a look at few examples I have gathered:

A father that marks Wednesdays in his calendar as the best days to spend some time with his kids. Obvious, right!?
Keep in mind that this visualization not only acts as a good reminder but also creates a level of commitment to this type of task.

The clock- the clock creates a good understanding over the time we may or may not perform a specific task. These can be used for homework tasks, play hours and more….

The following table presents a time frame where I produce the most value during the day. Therefore, I will target my tasks to these hours.
It may be that my type of work is such that I would prefer doing the ”paper work” early in the morning, and the coaching stuff, meeting and face to face communication later on intothe day when other people are around.

The following is a chart showing Light and Time of Day. What's the best time of day to go painting outdoors?

When is the right time to publish one of my blog posts?
On Sunday when no one from my American readers is on the web, or on Friday when no one of my Israeli readers is on the web?