Making the SWOT sexy again
The hot air balloon (also see the separate post on the model) is a metaphorical method that aims to identify strengths, weaknesses, external forces, stakeholders and goals all in a simple and well-structured process. The exercise is often best done at the start of a session, followed up with deeper, more creative excercises.
The charm is that you’re not relying on another dull matrix (like the SWOT) but actually going through an imaginary journey that engages us to think outside of our typical thought patterns. This will already help to take away some reservations with participants who are dreading another tireless SWOT analysis exercise. It is an interesting alternative (like the bus and adventure as well) to the more analytical/rational original team canvas.
Just gather all participants and collect their input step-by-step in the process.
Hot air balloon to bring things together
Five Structural Elements for the Hot air balloon
The Hot air balloon is a very straightforward exercise and pretty much automatically leads you through the different steps. The key thing to look for as a facilitator is to not let discussions get out of hand and help refocus on the key obejctive: getting an overview of strengths, weaknesses, etc rather than fully discuss them in detail.
Five structural elements
How to read the instructions
Invite people to come over to a wall/whiteboard where you have prepared a sketch of the Hot air balloon with the wind, balloon, spectator, island, etc. This will allow you to invite the group to join you in this hot air balloon that is set towards this paradise island.
Discourage long discussions and make clear a lot of input is preferred in this stage of the session.
What you can also do, is to have multiple smaller exercises (e.g. a purpose and culture exercise) and eventually bring them together onto the central visualization.
How Space Is Arranged and Materials Needed
It is easiest to work with a large sketch or depiction of the hot air balloon structure (the wind – the balloon – the spectators – the island) that everyone can see and add to. Making it large also will ensure you can use it as an ‘anchor point’ or source of inspiration throughout the rest of the session. Either use a large visual on the wall, use a beamer/screen to project it and/or use different flipover papers to create a large depiction.
Sequence of Steps and Time Allocation
Have a timekeeper stop the time of around 7 minutes per step and go through the method step by step (also see the separate model page for more background on the model):
- Wind These are all the external forces that can have an impact on the course of our hot air balloon no matter if they’re threats or opportunities. These typically encompass legislative, social or technological changes that we don’t have any control over.
- Sandbags The sandbags are all the internal challenges we are facing and the weaknesses that are literally dragging us down.
- Hot Air The hot air on the other side are all the strengths we have in our organization, our product and anything that we have control over to give us a competitive advantage.
- Passengers These are all the internal stakeholders that have an influence on the direction of our hot air balloon and in this sense our project.
- Observers Observers are all the target audiences and users of our product or service that we are aiming to serve as well as external stakeholders that have an interest in our journey.
- Paradise Island This is the dream destination and goal that we are working towards in a 5 to 10 year timeframe. How does the future look like in our imagination?
An alternative is to see the wind as all the strengths we have in our organization, our product to give us a competitive advantage (the proverbial wind in our back) and to see hot air as the ‘fried air’, the bullsh*t surrounding your product or organisation, as an alternative for an exercise like the ‘stinky/smelly fish‘.
How Groups Are Configured
No special configuration needed.
Make sure people are able to see each the Hot air balloon mapping. A large wall or whiteboard is usually best.
How Participation Is Distributed
Everyone can add ideas, either by adding own post-its (and discuss later) or by having people suggest their ideas and have one central ‘writer’ who adds the ideas/post-its to the overall image. Easiest is usually to have the participants stand in front of the whiteboard with post-it’s and pens to gather their input. Whenever someone has a post-it to share they should go up to the whiteboard and share it briefly with the group.
Additional tips and pointers
- Make sure you don’t end up in long conversations but collect a lot of input from all participants.
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