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The principles of workplace prosperity, part 2

Published by
World Pipelines,

Jim Frith, Director of McConnell Dowell and IPLOCA Director, East & Far East, discusses how to manage a healthy construction company through the ups and downs of a business cycle.

Systems that serve, not stifle

A common problem with companies that have gone through significant growth is bureaucracy. As the organisation gets bigger, more layers of control are often applied. The workplace can become overrun with processes, procedures and forms that stifle agility and flexibility and disempower people. After almost a decade of continuous growth, McConnell Dowell found itself moving in that direction and acted decisively to address the situation.

McConnell Dowell has always prided itself on its ISO accredited, integrated management system (McConnell Dowell Management System or MMS). The MMS provides the framework for achieving compliance with statutory, regulatory, corporate requirements, and applicable codes and standard. It specifies processes and procedures for control of risks and hazards, and the impact of activities on the environment. It also focuses on client satisfaction and continual improvement. It has been used to effectively manage most of McConnell Dowell’s projects, from the small sub US$5 million projects through to the mega pipeline developments like APLNG in Queensland (Figure 2) and the Fourth Transmission Pipeline project in Thailand.

Recently, a comprehensive internal audit of the system found a proliferation of duplicated, redundant and out of date procedures. On reflection, through the recent growth phase in Australia, the group’s systems had become clogged and confusing.

In response, an initiative called ‘back to basics’ was launched. This brought together functional teams from across the business each tasked with reviewing, revising, simplifying and unifying the group’s procedures. The teams used the globally recognised Australian Business Excellence Framework to provide a structure for the process and to ensure a consistent approach was applied throughout the initiative.

The results have been significant. McConnell Dowell has achieved a 31% reduction in core MMS documentation, removing a total of 527 documents. This reduction has been achieved by consolidation, simplification or removal of old, outdated and obsolete documents. In the same period the group has also refreshed and loaded 88 new, simplified documents into MMS for use. The group’s focus moving forward is consolidation and streamlining of its OHS procedures and safe work instructions, and to generate standard operating procedures that are more user-friendly, easier to implement in the field and improve delivery quality.

In addition to the focus on MMS, McConnell Dowell also mobilised a small business improvement team to identify, analyse and improve existing business systems with the aim of simplification, cost reduction and quality improvement. So far this team has managed the development of a standardised opportunity tracking system and a unified HR system to manage employees throughout the various stages of their careers with the group. Both these system changes have delivered significant paperwork reduction and enhanced management transparency and control.

The ‘back to basics’ theme has really taken hold in McConnell Dowell with all employees embracing the drive to simplify its business, remove bureaucracy and focus on what the group does best, which is delivering outstanding projects for its clients and the community.


Change is inevitable and the ups and downs in the construction sector are a part of life. The organisations that survive and prosper are those that embrace some core principles that they believe in and are proven to work, regardless of the external environment.

For McConnell Dowell these principles involve nurturing a strong, positive culture; ensuring the group’s organisational structure is simple and making sure its systems and procedures are empowering its people, not hindering them with bureaucracy.

McConnell Dowell believes that these principles can work for any business and recommend that leadership teams across the industry do a health check on their organisation against these three strategies. An improvement in any or all of these areas, will deliver a positive impact on your organisation regardless of where it may be in the business cycle.

Written by Jim Frith, Director of McConnell Dowell and IPLOCA Director, East & Far East and edited by Elizabeth Corner. This article was published in full in the August 2015 issue of World Pipelines. To read the full article, click here.

Click here to read part 1.

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