In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, NZ's Ministry of Health stepped up to combat the fast-spreading disease.

While the government department had over 1000 employees, they needed to build a stand-alone Directorate dedicated to COVID-19 Response, including a comprehensive testing operations team.

To implement this requirement quickly, Deep Waters Consulting Director Giselle Wansa-Harvey was brought in to assist the Ministry of Health in leading the COVID-19 Testing Strategy and building a new Testing Operations team. Today, the COVID-19 Directorate has approximately 200 personnel with over 20 in the testing space and has been commended globally for how it handled the crisis.


Stringent COVID-19 testing activities were crucial to keeping New Zealand safe. The Ministry of Health needed a team dedicated to rigorous testing practices. And the team required nimble and creative solutions to reduce public complacency around getting COVID-19 tests, even during periods of calm.

Focusing on internal dynamics, the Ministry also needed to ensure the newly built team could in short order work cohesively as one to deliver in the highly pressurised environment. To achieve this ambition, the team required clear internal processes to help tackle the evolving expectations as a united front.


Building the team

Tasked with building the Testing Operations team and implementing a well-functioning infrastructure, we recruited a talented team of approximately 20 members. Each of the members brought a distinct set of skills that would contribute to the group’s success.

We went to lengths to support the pastoral needs of the team. It was crucial to ensure that each team member was not working above their capacity; preventing burnout was our top priority. As well as this, we supported the Group Manager and kept them informed of any emerging risks and pressures.

Overall, as clarity around the work programme emerged, we created a highly skilled team whose personal needs were met, enabling them to work proficiently as a unit.

Implementing the processes

Implementing the testing strategy began with careful preparation and development.

We used tactical planning tools and workflow methods to operationalise testing solutions as outbreaks emerged. And once the strategies were developed, we led the COVID-19 Testing work programme across NZ’s border and community settings. Furthermore, we provided strategic oversight and assistance to the DHBs and PHUs who deployed the testing activities.

Giselle Wansa-Harvey, Director of Deep Waters was also responsible for liaising internally and with leadership at The Ministry of Health to ensure the team met the Government's testing programme expectations. We understand that solutions are not one-size-fits-all, so we provided progress reports to establish a system of continuous improvement. This helped us ensure the operations team met vital objectives.

Clear communication was of utmost importance during the pandemic. To maintain smooth cooperation, we formed strong relationships with key external stakeholders, including public health units, district health boards, the government, and the COVID-19 Directorate. We also answered all queries from the media, DHB, and government officials to keep everyone informed. Confidence and harm reduction begins by arming the public with knowledge.


The result was a high functioning Testing Operations team with a clearly defined infrastructure. Due to the unfamiliar nature of the virus, we created systems with the flexibility to adapt alongside the ever-changing expectations. We could adjust all of the tools, methods, and work processes depending on the situation.

Fostering positive relationships with key external stakeholders was a big priority. The two-way communication was central to the rollout of testing procedures across New Zealand. We also ensured a seat at the Incident Management table, reinforcing that testing has a clear role in crisis response.

We led real-time recording and monitoring of testing data. This involved systemising the results and analysing them, which allowed us to determine where improvement was needed. It was vital to have adequate testing coverage across the country.

As well as leading and overseeing the functional aspects of the team, we also catered to their pastoral needs. We needed to meet all emotional, social, and spiritual needs in such an intense and high-pressure environment. In the face of a challenging situation, the team quickly formed and stormed to work as one cohesive unit showing excellent team morale and camaraderie.


Giselle Wansa-Harvey of Deep Waters Consulting was tasked with building the Testing Operations team and implementing a well-functioning national testing infrastructure.

We successfully achieved this mission and established the COVID-19 Testing Operations team, which comprises approximately 20 highly skilled individuals united under a common goal. They now have effective processes in place that are flexible enough to combat the evolving nature of the virus.

Satisfied with the outcome, we’ve been able to hand over the team’s leadership to permanent and stable management at the Ministry of Health. However, we will be on hand to provide further strategy and advice in the future, should the need arise.

Overall this monumental work programme was a success. We are proud to have played our part in protecting the health of kiwis during a global pandemic and ultimately, a time of great uncertainty.