The declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020 radically shifted priorities for Health Support Services, the health service provider that provides shared services (including ICT) for the Western Australian (WA) public health system.
In late 2020, Health Support Services (HSS) was required to urgently develop a vaccine administration management system (VaccinateWA) to assist in the delivery of the State’s COVID-19 immunisation program from February 2021. Delivering Vaccinate WA in just six weeks presented a series of risks, including an extremely time-pressured environment, a high degree of uncertainty and the high-profile nature of the project that attracted strong levels of public scrutiny.
A new case in ANZSOG’s John L.Alford Case Library, VaccinateWA: The Role of Leadership in Rapid Project Delivery looks at how HSS was able to rise to the challenge of developing the VaccinateWA system and the critical role leadership plays in creating a high performing public sector agency.
The case demonstrates that leadership at all levels across an organisation plays a central role in establishing and embedding values and culture within the organisation, enhancing accountability and integrity amongst its staff, and expanding the capacity of teams to mitigate risks and deliver outcomes, despite uncertainty.
In anticipation of the COVID-19 vaccine arriving in Australia in 2021, the Australian Federal Government released the COVID-19 Vaccination Policy, which required each State Government to develop a system that could deliver the vaccination to their population in alignment with the Federal Government’s vaccine requirements.
The Western Australian (WA) Department of Health commissioned Health Support Services to lead the rapid development of a Vaccine Management System. The development team was led by senior leaders within Health Support Services including: Executive Director, Ralph Bates; Program Director, Luella Forbes and Program Manager, Hosam Aly, and provided leadership in several critical areas.
- Resource allocation – approximately 20 full-time employees were assigned to the VaccinateWA project, with several support staff from across the organisation available to work on the project as required.
- Leaders within the organisation consistently working to embed a culture that upheld the values of the Health Support Services.
- Ensuring accountability and integrity in all project decisions.
- Bringing and keeping the project team together within a pressured situation.
Mr Aly said that delivering the new system within six weeks stretched the team, however they didn’t want to be the reason a person couldn’t get vaccinated. He said: “We managed through our culture and our values to support one another and be able to pivot well…and deliver. It’s an amazing achievement. And that’s the team…I’m not talking about myself”
He noted: “People were happy to work outside their guard rails…we were happy to do any other job that was needed and support anyone else. For example, the ‘we will find a way’ value resonated strongly with the team.Where issues arose and had the ability to derail the project, many of the team put up their hands to support streams of work, in an effort to bring activities back on track. Some examples of this included the Business Analysts and Service Desk Agents testing the release to ensure it met requirements and quality standards. Another example was on ‘go-live’ where several team members went outside of their normal work and commute cycles to provide in-person support across some of the larger clinics to those frontline nurses and support staff.”
Key lessons can be drawn from this case about the critical role leadership plays in a high performing public sector agency. Leadership at all levels is critical in developing, embedding and maintaining a productive workplace culture. Health Support Services had the culture embedded throughout the organisation and were able to redirect its workforce swiftly to meet the needs of the sector.
A positive culture enabled Health Support Services to respond to rapidly shifting priorities while supporting their workforce. Aly said that despite the challenge of delivering the project and the demands it placed on the team, the culture and values that were embedded shone through and they retained all team members despite the pressure placed on them.
The Case concludes that, COVID-19 pandemic tested the public sector’s capacity to respond in a crisis. A broader lesson that the public sector can take from this case is the central role of leaders in demonstrating and embedding the values of its agency at every opportunity – this may be the factor that prepares the public sector to respond effectively to future crises.
ANZSOG’s John L. Alford Case Library is a resource for teachers of public policy, with hundreds of detailed teaching cases based on real-world policies and programs in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. This case was written by Susannah Nichols for the Institute of Public Administration Australia (WA)
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