Using a Strategic Planning Tool as a Framework for Case Analysis

By Lai, Christine A.; Rivera, Julio C., Jr. | Journal of College Science Teaching, October 2006 | Go to article overview

Using a Strategic Planning Tool as a Framework for Case Analysis


Lai, Christine A., Rivera, Julio C., Jr., Journal of College Science Teaching


Byline: Christine A. Lai and Julio C. Rivera, Jr

Introduction/background

SWOT analysis, a process that identifies the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats involved in a proposed project or business venture, can be a powerful technique for facilitating discussion and identifying key criteria and issues in situation analysis and problem solving. Most often used in the context of marketing/management strategy development, it is a flexible tool that can be applied to situations and problems in a wide range of disciplines. It can also be applied to case studies, providing a framework for student discussion and analysis.

The case study described in this article was developed for a course in economic geography, although the case could also be used in other courses, including environmental science and urban planning. Students learn about the SWOT analysis framework and then apply it to the proposed project. Based on their analysis, they are asked to make a decision as to whether the project should be constructed. Upon completing the case, it is expected students will be able to define the four basic components of a SWOT framework, identify those components as they apply to the situation of the case, use the framework to make an informed decision, and identify other situations/cases where the framework could be applied.

Tempe Town Lake project

In the late 1990s, the town of Tempe, Arizona, proposed developing the dry riverbed of the Salt River (Rio Salado) into a 220-acre, 5-kilometer-long, 250- to 300-meter wide lake, at a projected cost of $445 million. The idea behind the project was to create a focal point for the city that offered public recreational amenities for the local inhabitants as well as a potential tourist destination. Economic benefits were expected from tourism, as well as from the expected development of hotels, retail businesses, and multihousing complexes surrounding the lake. The project presented a number of challenges and issues, among them finding water in a growing state with limited water resources, determining ownership of the land along the riverbed, and preserving wildlife and native vegetation amid substantial construction efforts.

The SWOT framework

Now widely used by companies and universities in strategic planning, SWOT analysis actually originated as a tool for case analysis at the Harvard Business School (Panagiotou 2003; Ghemawat 2002). In the early 1950s, two Harvard business policy professors, George Albert Smith, Jr. and his colleague (and well-known case teacher and author) C. Roland Christensen, trained their students to question whether a company's marketing/management strategy matched its competitive environment as part of the process of analyzing a case (Ghemawat 2002). This was expanded upon by another Harvard professor of business policy, Kenneth Andrews, in the late 1950s, and by the early 1960s, case discussions in Harvard's business policy courses focused on understanding a company's strengths and weaknesses in relation to the opportunities and threats (or risks) in its business environment, a framework that later came to be referred to by the acronym SWOT. In 1963, a business policy conference was held at Harvard that helped to disseminate the SWOT concept more broadly, to academia and out into management practice (Panagiotou 2003; Ghemawat 2002).

The SWOT framework is an analysis embedded in an overall marketing strategy method. An important step in the marketing management process is identifying market opportunities and threats along with organizational strengths and weaknesses. Marketing plays a key role in strategic planning by providing a guiding philosophy and input to strategic planners, and by designing strategies to reach objectives. In the end, the final strategic plan must support an organization's mission, vision, goals, and objectives.

Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats can be divided into controllable (internal) and noncontrollable (external) variables.

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