7 Steps to Jump-Start a Cannabis Quality Management System

Sean Arnold
February 16, 2022

At Terradigm Consulting, we’re no strangers to considering what goes into properly building a commercial cannabis quality management system (QMS). To help your commercial cannabis company get started on the right path, we’ve laid out seven key steps you should take to increase your chances of wooing customers and building a quality-centered operational cannabis strategy. 

1. Pursuing Quality Production Begins and Ends with the Customer

Regardless if your business is producing flower, cannabinoid topicals, or crafting new applications altogether, the ultimate goal in commercial cannabis is to wow buyers with your products or services, so they become repeat customers. The pursuit of customer satisfaction means every business — regardless of product type or service — will engage in some form of quality management. For those unfamiliar with cannabis quality management, the practice can be both complex and dynamic, with many variables at play, each influencing the other. Quality pertains to both the processes of production and the products produced. Therefore, one of a business's essential responsibilities is identifying its target customer and, more importantly, their needs and desires. Once a company does this, it can continue building a plan and strategy to deliver the customers' quality requirements. 

2. Use a Quality Policy to Guide Your Cannabiz 

“Highest” and “best quality” are generic phrases used by most product companies in the cannabis industry. We recommend moving beyond these generic claims by providing context to the term “quality.” Your quality policy — sometimes referred to as the company’s quality statement — serves this purpose. The quality policy is a high-level document detailing what quality means to the company. Consider the quality policy as the driving force behind the company’s actions. It gives the team purpose and direction, outlining the company's “what” and “why.” Operating a business without a quality policy is like traveling without a destination: you can do it, but it’s not very productive. Here is an article that provides some examples and insight for developing a solid quality policy.

3. Determine Cannabis Product Quality Measurement and Achievement

After establishing the quality policy, the next step is to lay out the key goals for each department relevant to fulfilling the company’s quality initiatives. These are known as quality objectives and should be specific and measurable. Depending on your cannabis business model, they could pertain to processes or products. Don’t worry about developing perfect goals, as quality objectives evolve based on many influences. The real value of quality objectives is their relevance for monitoring and evaluating performance. As there are many types of quality objectives a cannabis company could use, we recommend revisiting your objectives periodically to ensure alignment with the operation’s overarching quality policy. 

4. Assign Roles to Ensure Quality Management is a Team Effort 

There’s a saying that if everyone is responsible for “x”, then no one is truly responsible for “x”. Expecting your entire team to own quality enables individuals to escape accountability when something goes awry. Quality is a top-down practice, so everyone in the organization plays a role in delivering quality. When managing quality, its essential to assign roles, delegate responsibilities, and communicate how individual team members contribute to the company’s quality policy. From the CEO down to the entry-level laborer, everyone plays a part. The key is orchestrating the team, so everyone understands the big picture and knows their role within the commercial cannabis operation.

5. Execute SOPs and Establish KPIs to Quantify Results

Now that the playing field has been set and the players are in place, it's time to define your processes using standard operating procedures (SOPs) and establish what key performance indicators (KPIs) will be used to evaluate performance. KPIs will either validate the effectiveness of your SOPs or illustrate a need for improvement. KPIs are also a good tool for assessing how effectively the cannabis company meets its quality objectives. Do not be fooled into thinking your SOPs will guarantee your quality objectives are met. Processes should be validated for efficiency and effectiveness before being implemented. Even then, it can be beneficial to review your SOPs periodically as emerging technologies and changes in cannabis market demand can offer opportunities for improvement. 

6. Lean Into Long-Term QMS Implementation to be Competitive

Let’s face it: Every commercial cannabis company wants a competitive advantage — one they can improve upon year over year. Therefore, a company’s ability to recognize the need for change and initiate action to affect said change is critical for long-term sustainability. This is especially true for commercial cannabis, a fiercely competitive industry that evolves quickly. The practices laid out here are foundational to fostering continual improvement. Pay attention to the data, as it will tell you what you need to know if you follow these steps. It may not always illustrate the desired results, though it will point you in the right direction. Change is never easy, but making measured improvements harvest over harvest, batch over batch, will lead to higher-quality products, satisfied investors, and happier customers. 

7. Remember Quality Management Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint

The strategies described above are not the only means for managing quality. This article serves as a primer for jump-starting your quality initiatives. If you're not familiar with formal quality management systems, you can start small and build your QMS incrementally over time. Quality is an organizational mindset that takes planning, discipline, and action to maintain.