The Right Stuff – NZ Immigration Transformation

Perhaps because it is when projects are in dire need of turnaround that Management seek out audit that it is the lot of the auditor that their work focuses on organisational missteps, the opportunities not taken, the risk not properly mitigated.

It is in that context that it is refreshing to read a recent report of the Auditor General of New Zealand looks at a project that was on its knees and was successfully turned around.

As the report notes:

This report outlines how Immigration New Zealand turned a project that was at risk of failing into a business transformation programme that was delivered broadly on time and to budget.

In what is the basis for many a project of change:

In the mid-2000s, Immigration New Zealand was struggling to process an increasing number of visa applications. Immigration New Zealand’s information and communications technology system, developed a decade previously, could not keep up with advances in technology, such as online services. As a result, processing visa applications was slow and costly. Applicants did not have a transparent process they could follow online because the applications were still paper-based.

In what is a beautifully written summation of the need for change the report notes:

These factors kept Immigration New Zealand’s immigration system from being modern, flexible, and effective. They also prevented Immigration New Zealand from having a risk-based, customer-focused, consistent, and cost-effective visa processing service. The immigration system needed to change so it could compete internationally for the people New Zealand needed.

But alas it didn’t get off to a good start:

In response to these issues, Immigration New Zealand started a business project to modernise and improve its processing of visa applications. Initially, project governance and management was weak and the project was at significant risk of failing.

So change was necessary and change they did:

A significant reason why Immigration New Zealand was able turn the project around was its willingness to learn, be challenged, and change as a result. The Vision 2015 Programme board also provided an effective steer for the programme through clear decision-making based on reliable information.

Which meant:

Good management practice was a large part of the Vision 2015 Programme’s success. This included effective independent project governance, strong leadership, clear communication, and programme management that used an agile and pragmatic approach.

And a strong audit function:

Independent quality assurance was used effectively to support strong reporting and reviewing of the programme.

Backed by strong management:

Immigration New Zealand gave the programme priority and allocated it the right capability and capacity, using a mix of staff and external consultants.

And in proof that all projects are living beasts:

The Vision 2015 Programme was designed to deliver its benefits over time. It provided a platform that was expected to improve how effectively and efficiently Immigration New Zealand processed visas, thereby improving the experience for a visa applicant. Some benefits have already been delivered. However, change is still being put in place.

Immigration New Zealand still has much to do to realise the programme’s intended benefits. We have not seen how the key performance indicators are brought together to show whether the overall programme’s intended benefits will be met. Because of this, we were unable to tell to what extent the programme has achieved its intended service benefits and wider outcomes.

It will be fascinating to read the final report in five or so years time as to how things transpired.


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