Written by: Donna Kirk – Pro Leaders Academy Pty Ltd


The world is discussing supply chains in a manner that has not been seen before, detailing ad nauseam the uncertain outcomes and global social and economic issues few have prepared for.

Except preparation had been done!

As recent as 2007-2008, the Australian National Audit Office undertook a performance audit in the Department of Health and Ageing and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry on Australia’s Preparedness for a Human Influenza Pandemic. This was in direct response to the H5N1 or Bird Flu as it was more commonly referred to.

The conclusion was Australia had undertaken considerable planning and preparedness activities over the last three years to prevent, prepare for and respond to an influenza pandemic. There is even mention of social distancing measures designed to reduce the transmission of disease by suspending public gatherings, that might include closing schools and theatres. Other measures that could be used include the requirement to wear surgical masks when using public transport…  There were still areas to focus on however there were no significant alarm bells.

So what happened between then and now- is it that we were prepared then but not now? Or did we overlook something?

We had an audit, we had plans and had even undergone an exercise; Exercise Cumpston was conducted and tested in 2006 by the Dept of Health and Ageing (DoHA) So-named after Dr John Howard Lidgett Cumpston, the first head of the Commonwealth Health Department, who devised strategic quarantine and social distancing measures during the 1918–19 influenza pandemic.  Australia was not alone in this preparedness – other countries such as United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, the United States of America and Singapore all undertook similar exercises.  Could it be that there was one significant risk that was not discussed throughout all the discussions, the surveys, the explorations and that was overlooked?


What if there isn’t a cure, medication, or a vaccination to deal with the pandemic?

This question can be raised because Point 21 of this audit highlights the following

Australia’s National Medical Stockpile, which is central to an effective response to an influenza pandemic, was established to provide essential medicines and equipment for use in a health emergency. It has sufficient coverage for nearly 44 per cent of the population, which is one of the highest per capita stockpiles in the world. DoHA’s focus has primarily been on procuring and storing the Stockpile, rather than ongoing management and deployment. This audit has highlighted that it is now timely for DoHA to transition from short term ‘supply and store’ to a longer term management storage strategy, which should be underpinned by a proper assessment of the risks involved in managing and deploying the Stockpile”.

This clause assumed there were supplies to be stockpiled. The situation with COVID-19 has highlighted assumptions can decimate our preparedness.


The relevance to Project or Procurement managers.

As procurement or project managers, our job is to prepare. To plan and to organise. In doing so, the activity of risk management forms part of the process. And it is an activity – not a checklist. It is the time to question – to ask, to avoid assuming anything.

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it has taught us that the smallest assumption cannot just cause disruption it can change the outcome completely!

We need to ask ourselves two questions all of the time –

  1. Am I assuming anything,
  2. What might this look like of it doesn’t work?

Sometimes, people take a more philosophical approach –  will this matter in five years? – if the answer is ‘no’, then move through the process. If the answer is yes, then stop, revisit, ask some more questions, look at the basic assumptions of supply, or resourcing. Consider the impacts of losing 50% of your team.

We can all gain something from COVID-19, even if it’s just a refresher course on basic assumptions. On how to engage with people in different ways. On what’s important and what can wait. How to run a meeting in half the time.

The challenge comes a little further down the line when we get back into business as usual and forget the audits, the plans and rely on the assumptions. We now we need to review plans, but we are busy and already know the answers…don’t we?


Copy of Audit can be found here: https://www.anao.gov.au/sites/default/files/ANAO_Report_2007-2008_06.pdf


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