Strategic planning and SWOT analysis are easy to do with sticky notes.15 years ago I was sitting in a boardroom with a group of colleagues for a strategic planning session when we were each handed a pad of sticky notes and a pen.  The instructions were to write down what was wrong with the company – one thought per sticky note.  We looked at each other, grinned and the sticky notes started flying.

By the end of the day, we had identified and categorized key issues that were facing the company.  It was easy to do, we were able to drill down into details and it was something we could visually understand.

I use this same exercise for a number of purposes including SWOTs, strategic planning and company/departmental issues.  I teach this exercise on the opening day of my graduate marketing classes.

Here’s an example of how to do a Sticky Notes SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis:

  1. Hand out sticky notes and pens to all participants.
  2. Each person anonymously writes down one thought per sticky note.  They should write in large block letters so everyone can read it.
  3. For a SWOT – they put down what the category is – then the note.  So a strength note might read – Strength – Good cash flow
  4. Set a time limit.  It can be 20 or 30 minutes.  Results usually fall off after 10 minutes.  It depends on the time you have and the complexity of the subject.
  5. When time is up – everyone stands up and places the sticky notes randomly on a wall – or on a large piece of paper on the wall.  For a SWOT analysis – you would have 4 pieces of paper.  The notes are set randomly for the next part of the process.
  6. Everyone stands in front of the sticky notes and starts to group the notes.  This is done as a group exercise – although this is where a moderator might help.  So you might group slides that have to do with cash flow, accounting practices and outstanding invoices together.
  7. Step back and look at the groupings.  Create another sticky note for each major grouping and lay on top of the group.  So under strengths, you might have a group called “good financial controls.”  Continue the exercise until you have identified all the key areas.
  8. Keep the sticky notes and the papers.  It’s good to go back after a period of time (6 months) and see if you really accomplished what you set out to do.

I like this exercise because it is easy to do – and creates good visual results.  I recommend having an independent moderator run the exercise.  They are less afraid to drill down into details and don’t have a bias on the outcome.

Good luck on running this exercise.  Please contact me if you have any questions.