What is Swift

Guide: Structured What-If Technique (SWIFT)

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Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is an experienced continuous improvement manager with a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and a Bachelor's degree in Business Management. With more than ten years of experience applying his skills across various industries, Daniel specializes in optimizing processes and improving efficiency. His approach combines practical experience with a deep understanding of business fundamentals to drive meaningful change.

When starting a new project, considering the “What-ifs” is important. This is where the Structured What if Technique also known as SWIFT, comes in useful. SWIFT is a risk assessment tool that helps project teams identify potential problems before they arise.

This approach is about thinking ahead and anticipating potential issues before they arise, planning for them, and taking action to avoid or minimize them. The tool is particularly useful in fields such as safety and efficiency. SWIFT is often a very useful tool to use in the early defined stages of a project to reduce the risk of project failure or issues preventing progress.

Table of Contents

What is SWIFT?

The Structured What-If Technique (SWIFT) is a guided brainstorming session that focuses on safety and risk. For example, a cross-functional team can be discussing the risk to a project, process, or business. i.e., “What if this machine stops suddenly?” etc., thinking of as many scenarios as possible, no matter how unlikely. Then the team should think about how to prevent them or the actions taken to respond if they do happen.

SWIFT was developed in the 1970s, before the technologically advanced and complex systems of today existed. A straightforward method of identifying risks in the workplace was needed. It was developed to be faster and easier than other methods at the time such as HAZOP, which required a lot of time and expert knowledge. 

When to use SWIFT?

SWIFT is a useful tool that is used as part of risk management. It is most useful in the following situations:

  • Before Project Kickoff: Before you start a new project or process, SWIFT is a useful tool to help spot potential issues.
  • When something has changed: If you are making big changes to how things are done, such as process changes, SWIFT can be useful to identify risks associated to the change.
  • Regular Reviews/Check-ups: SWIFT can be part of a yearly review of the process to check operations are running smoothly and no new risks have arisen.
  • Learning from Mistakes: SWIFT is useful to apply after something has gone wrong. This can be done by looking back at what happened and understanding why it happened to ensure it does not happen again. 

How to Conduct a SWIFT Analysis?

Step 1: Assemble a Team

The first step in SWIFT is to assemble a team. Conducting SWIFT on your own is not going to be very effective, as it will only consider one point of view. Whereas, a team will consider multiple points of view.

Depending on the focus of the SWIFT, you may consider including operations staff, safety officers, quality control professionals, and engineers. Make sure you consider the range of stakeholders when running a SWIFT brainstorming session.

Team - Learnleansigma

Step 2: Define the Scope

Now that you have the team assembled, the next step is to clearly define the scope of the session and ensure the team agrees and understands the scope.

When defining the scope, ensure to be specific, narrow down the focus, and avoid having too many variables. Set boundaries decide what is in and out of scope to keep the session on track and communicate clearly.

Scope Venn Diagram

Step 3: Develop What-if Questions

Now that you have the scope, you and the team need to create What-if scenarios.

To do this, you should start by being cautious before diving into the more unlikely ones. Encourage the team to be creative, think outside the box, and even consider remote possibilities.

As a facilitator, you should use prompts to help the team think of scenarios. Prompts might include “what if there were changes to the environment”, “equipment malfunctions, “human errors,” and “external factors like power outages.

Team Problem Solving

Step 4: Assess Risk and Prioritize

From the What if questions, you should have a list of “What-ifs” which are the potential risks. The next step is to evaluate them. This can be done with a Risk matrix, placing each scenario on the gird based on the likelihood of its occurrence and potential impact.

Identify which are high risks that need immediate attention and which can be monitored over time.

Risk Matrix 

Step 5: Develop Mitigation Plans

For each high-priority risk, you’ll need a strategy; again, this can be done with brainstorming solutions as the team discusses how each risk can be prevented.

Assign responsibility for each action to ensure ownership is given.

Example of Action Plan:

Action Responsible Deadline Status
Implement Preventive Maintenance Maintenance Manager 30 days Not Started
Conduct Staff Training Training Coordinator 60 days Not Started
Maintain Spare Parts Inventory Inventory Manager 30 days Not Started
Develop Emergency Response Plan Operations Manager 40 days Not Started
Perform Upgrade/Replacement Analysis Finance & Engineering Team 90 days Not Started

Step 6: Document and Review

Finally, the SWIFT session should be documented. Write down all the risks identified, their rating and mitigation plans. This should be reviewed regularly in future sessions. SWIFT is a living process and not a one time activity so should be reviewed and updated as processess and operation evolve.


In any project’s early stages, anticipating and planning for potential issues are pivotal for success. This is where the Structured What-If Technique (SWIFT) proves invaluable. As a proactive risk management tool, SWIFT enables teams to envision and prepare for possible problems, fostering a proactive rather than reactive approach.

With its roots in the 1970s, SWIFT was designed to be a straightforward and quick method for identifying potential risks without the complexity and time consumption of methods like HAZOP. Ideal during project kick-offs, major changes, routine audits, and post-incident analyses, SWIFT encourages diverse teams to think broadly about risks and craft effective mitigation strategies. By thoroughly documenting and regularly reviewing these strategies, SWIFT remains a dynamic and integral part of ongoing risk management, ensuring processes adapt and resilience is built into every project phase.


Additional Useful Information on SWIFT (Structured What-If Technique)

Components of SWIFT

  1. Elements: The primary components or variables of the system or process being analyzed.
  2. Guidewords: A list of words or phrases used to explore different kinds of deviations or risks.
  3. Scenarios: The potential situations that can arise from the combinations of elements and guidewords.
  4. Controls: Measures in place to mitigate the identified hazards.

Beyond the Basics: SWIFT’s Flexibility

  1. Scalability: One of the key strengths of SWIFT is its scalability. The technique can be applied to both simple and complex systems, making it versatile across various industries.

  2. Team Collaboration: SWIFT is often conducted in a workshop setting, encouraging multiple stakeholders to contribute their unique perspectives.

Integration with Lean Six Sigma

SWIFT can be seamlessly integrated into Lean Six Sigma methodologies, particularly during the Analyze phase of the DMAIC cycle. It helps in identifying the root causes of variability and inefficiencies.

How SWIFT Differs from FMEA

While both SWIFT and FMEA (Failure Mode and Effects Analysis) serve similar purposes, they differ in approach. FMEA is more detailed and often more time-consuming, making SWIFT a quicker alternative for initial hazard identification.

A: Structured What-If Technique (SWIFT) is a qualitative risk assessment method that aims to identify hazards and evaluate their potential impact. It is often used in industries like manufacturing, logistics, and public sectors to proactively address safety concerns or operational inefficiencies. SWIFT involves brainstorming sessions where a team of experts reviews a process or system to identify potential risks, which are then prioritized based on severity and likelihood.

A: SWIFT is generally quicker and less resource-intensive compared to other methods like Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) or Hazard and Operability Study (HAZOP). It’s best suited for systems or processes that are not overly complex. While FMEA and HAZOP are more detailed and require extensive data, SWIFT relies on expert judgment to quickly identify and assess risks.

A: SWIFT is most effective during the early stages of a project, or when you need a quick review of existing operations. It’s also beneficial when you’re working with a constrained budget or timeframe. Given its qualitative nature, SWIFT can serve as a preliminary step before more in-depth analyses like FMEA or HAZOP are conducted.

A: The SWIFT process generally involves the following steps:

  1. Assemble a multidisciplinary team of experts.
  2. Define the scope and objectives of the analysis.
  3. Identify the processes or systems to be analyzed.
  4. Brainstorm potential hazards or risks.
  5. Evaluate and prioritize the identified risks based on their impact and likelihood.
  6. Develop mitigation strategies for high-priority risks.
  7. Document the findings and implement the recommended actions.

A: While SWIFT is a valuable tool for quick risk assessment, it has limitations. It is primarily qualitative and relies heavily on the expertise of the team. If the team lacks experience or domain knowledge, the assessment may not be thorough. Additionally, SWIFT is not suitable for very complex systems, where more detailed methods like FMEA or HAZOP would be more appropriate.


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Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is a seasoned continuous improvement manager with a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma. With over 10 years of real-world application experience across diverse sectors, Daniel has a passion for optimizing processes and fostering a culture of efficiency. He's not just a practitioner but also an avid learner, constantly seeking to expand his knowledge. Outside of his professional life, Daniel has a keen Investing, statistics and knowledge-sharing, which led him to create the website learnleansigma.com, a platform dedicated to Lean Six Sigma and process improvement insights.

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