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Warren Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, once stated, "In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield." This insight underscores the importance of not only understanding where your business has been but, more crucially, where it is headed in the context of the external environment. For Fortune 500 companies, navigating the complex and ever-evolving external landscape is not just about sustaining operations but about seizing opportunities for growth while mitigating risks. At the heart of this strategic endeavor is External Analysis—a critical component of Strategic Planning that enables businesses to adapt, innovate, and maintain competitive advantage.

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Flevy Management Insights: External Analysis


Warren Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, once stated, "In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield." This insight underscores the importance of not only understanding where your business has been but, more crucially, where it is headed in the context of the external environment. For Fortune 500 companies, navigating the complex and ever-evolving external landscape is not just about sustaining operations but about seizing opportunities for growth while mitigating risks. At the heart of this strategic endeavor is External Analysis—a critical component of Strategic Planning that enables businesses to adapt, innovate, and maintain competitive advantage.

The Essence of External Analysis

External Analysis involves a comprehensive evaluation of all the external factors that could impact the organization's performance. These factors include economic, political, social, technological, environmental, and legal dimensions—commonly referred to as PESTEL analysis. The goal is to identify opportunities that can be leveraged for growth and threats that must be managed or mitigated.

In today's rapidly changing business environment, the ability to conduct an effective External Analysis is more critical than ever. According to a recent survey by McKinsey & Company, 90% of executives believe that the COVID-19 crisis will fundamentally change the way they do business over the next five years, yet only 21% feel equipped to address these changes. This gap underscores the need for a robust framework to understand and respond to external forces.

Best Practices in Conducting External Analysis

Key Principles for Effective External Analysis

  1. Relevance: Focus on factors that have a direct impact on the organization's strategy and operations. Not all external elements will be equally significant.
  2. Objectivity: Approach the analysis with an unbiased perspective. Preconceived notions or internal biases can skew the results and lead to incorrect conclusions.
  3. Flexibility: Be prepared to adapt the strategy based on the findings of the External Analysis. The ability to pivot in response to new information is a hallmark of agile and resilient organizations.

A Strategic Approach to External Analysis

To systematize the process of External Analysis, a phased approach can be highly effective. This structured methodology not only ensures comprehensiveness but also facilitates actionable insights.

Phase 1: Environment Scanning

The first step is to conduct a broad scan of the external environment to identify potential factors that could impact the business. This includes reviewing industry reports, market research, news articles, and academic publications. The aim is to cast a wide net and gather as much relevant information as possible.

Phase 2: Information Filtering and Analysis

With a wealth of information collected, the next step is to filter and analyze this data to identify trends, patterns, and outliers. This involves distinguishing between noise and signals—focusing on information that is most relevant to the organization's strategic objectives.

Phase 3: Strategic Implications

Once the critical external factors have been identified, the next phase is to assess their implications for the organization's strategy. This involves asking key questions such as: How do these factors affect our competitive position? What opportunities can we leverage? What threats do we need to mitigate?

Phase 4: Action Planning

The final phase is to translate the insights gained from the External Analysis into actionable strategies. This may involve developing new initiatives, adjusting existing strategies, or even reconsidering the organization's overall strategic direction.

To close this discussion, External Analysis is a vital component of strategic management, enabling organizations to navigate the complexities of the external environment. By adopting best practices, adhering to key principles, and following a structured approach, Fortune 500 companies can enhance their strategic agility, foster innovation, and sustain competitive advantage in an unpredictable world.

For effective implementation, take a look at these External Analysis best practices:


Explore related management topics: Strategic Planning Competitive Advantage Agile Market Research Best Practices PEST Environmental Analysis Industry Analysis Strategy Development Growth Strategy Competitive Analysis Porter's Five Forces Value Innovation Business Model Innovation Emerging Market Entry Company Analysis




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