Do more than a high-level analysis when solving problems

I’ve recently assisted one of the distribution channels at my company and the problem statement was quite an interesting one: “We’re tired of doing a SWOT analysis, do you have something else we can do?”. Besides guiding them to conduct a useful analysis to prepare them for their 2022, this statement got me reflecting on how we typically solve our business problems.

Henley will be proud of my following statement (I hope), which is a key lesson I’ve learned from my MBA journey: When analysing a business problem, we need to go into sufficient depth to gain powerful insights. We need to go through the funnel. We need to analyse high-level AND low-level. Let me share with you what I mean by this.

Analysis of the bigger picture

Whenever someone utters the phrase “strategic analysis”, this is typically the level at which people think. Interesting though is that even a strategic analysis needs much more than this. Anyway, here we have the level of a SWOT analysis or PESTEL analysis. Where we take a helicopter view of what’s happening in the bigger picture where we find ourselves.

It is really helpful to understand this context, and important of course, but the problem is that if we end here we have no actionable insights about how to adapt to this. We haven’t considered the “so what” part of the problem.

“We must leverage strength X”. “Ok, so what?”

Analysis of the specific context

Don’t immediately jump to execution mode by mapping out activities and tasks to kick off that project. We still need a little more context.

Here we connect the dots between the high-level environment and the context we find ourselves in. We found strength X, but what exactly does this mean to our businesses and why exactly did we say that’s the case? What do we have at your disposal to take on and improve this? How do we make sure we sufficiently understand what we mean in the first place?

This is the space where we unpack our resources, capabilities, market positioning, as-is and to-be processes, stakeholders, 5-forces and so forth.

“We can leverage strength X better by continuing with A, enhancing B and acquiring C while carefully managing D”. “Ok, so how do we do this?”

Understand how to execute

Now that we understand our business problem we’re in a position to create an effective execution plan with a high level of confidence. Yes, we could have executed it previously, but how sure are we that it would have been the best solution in our context? Luckily in this case we went through the middle step discussed above, so we’re quite sure.

Here we outline how to operationalise and execute to solve our business problem. Breakdowns of what exactly we need to do, when, by whom, how we will fund this, how we will manage this etc. Call it project management, call it operational planning, whichever gets you to do the actual work required.

“To continue with A, enhance B, acquire C and manage D, we need to do the following…”

Do you step into the pitfall of doing a SWOT analysis followed by a few guesses at what to do? PS: I’ve also written an article about how to improve innovation processes here.

Thanks for your time,


Image Credits: Alice Dietrich