Quality Management Systems: A Methodical Approach to Customer Satisfaction

Sean Arnold
June 17, 2021

Systems Make the World Go Round

From solar systems to ecosystems, communication systems to data systems, to social systems and beyond, civilization as we know it would not exist without systems.  In reality, the world around us is one massive collection of systems that keep society connected and functioning through good times and bad.  A group of interacting and interdependent things that comprise a whole, systems are the infrastructure supporting our daily lives.  As such, management systems provide efficient business functionality, where a collection of processes, procedures, and responsibilities drive desired outcomes to deliver products and services to the billions of people worldwide.

Businesses across the globe employ millions who perform thousands of processes a day with the intent of consistently delivering products and services to their customers.  To achieve this requires a considerable amount of skill and coordination, both internally and externally.  Executing business transactions without systems would be a futile exercise leading to utter chaos.  To this end, management systems provide the infrastructure necessary to meet business objectives and turn a profit.  As one can imagine, one holistic system does not exist that can solve all of a business’ needs; therefore, a variety of management systems exist to serve this purpose, including:

  • Compliance,
  • Quality,
  • Data,
  • Food Safety,
  • Environmental,
  • Energy Management System,
  • Workplace,
  • and Accounting, just to name a few.

Deciding which of these systems is a good fit will largely depend on the business model and the company’s objectives.  Utilizing a combination of management systems is recommended for larger businesses, while smaller operations may find more value in implementing one or two of these management systems.  Regardless, management systems should streamline processes, improve efficiencies, and ultimately improve the bottom line.  

A Systematic Approach to Cannabis Quality 

Commercial cannabis is a dynamic industry comprised of multiple business models relying on many scientific disciplines.  The multitude of decisions operators face daily is staggering, not to mention keeping pace with consumer trends in an attempt to remain relevant in a highly competitive marketplace. Layer on the complexities of an ever-changing regulatory landscape, and it’s easy to see why success in cannabis is so challenging.  It’s no wonder many operators spend most of their time putting out fires, only to leave their facilities day in and day out, exhausted and often feeling defeated.  As with any industry, management systems in cannabis would serve to alleviate many of the key issues troubling operators, especially those of quality and compliance.

For the casual onlooker, it would seem quality is of the highest importance to this burgeoning industry.  Look at any cannabis company's website, and you're likely to find quality mentioned somewhere in the description of their products or services. Yet, when listening closely, consumer complaints more often than not center around quality and consistency. The problem is not a lack of technical knowledge or even capabilities but the lack of management systems, which only compounds the issues at hand. Perhaps it’s the vernacular of corporate governance or the impression that management systems would increase day-to-day responsibilities preventing the widespread adoption of these systems by the industry.  Nevertheless, there’s an undeniable need for improvement in this regard, and an immediate solution is Quality Management Systems (QMS).  

The Basics of Quality Management Systems

Defined by the American Society for Quality (ASQ) as a formalized system that documents processes, procedures, and responsibilities for achieving quality policies and objectives, the QMS serves as the company’s roadmap to achieving quality.   The premise of the QMS is a plan-do-check-act (PDCA) approach that ensures processes, products, and services are adequately planned, executed, evaluated, and improved. Data is vital to the QMS, so documenting activities and results is also an essential component.  While it’s not rocket science, it will require intent, discipline, and action to implement and maintain these systems. 

The specifics of a QMS are unique to the organization’s needs and the regulatory requirements of the industry, but here are the common elements of a QMS:  

  1. Quality Manual
  2. Quality Policy & Objectives
  3. Organizational Structure & Responsibilities
  4. Processes
  5. Data Management
  6. Customer Satisfaction from product quality
  7. Quality Analysis
  8. Continual Improvement
  9. Document Control

Furthermore, the entire QMS itself is also subject to the same performance evaluation and refinement process as the processes contained within to ensure its ongoing effectiveness in serving its purpose.

Sound and Simple

When discussing the topic of quality, and subsequently, quality management in cannabis, most stakeholders will bring up Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) as evidence they understand quality control.  After all, these requisites to programs like Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), Good Production Practices (GPP), and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) are essential to establishing consistency in operations.  However, SOPs simply define how a process is to be performed, not how well that particular process performs compared to alternatives.  

It is conceivable to have poorly written SOPs or inferior process designs that fail to deliver their intended purpose. That's not to say SOPs aren't necessary because they are, but the mere existence of SOPs in a facility is not enough to ensure quality and consistency.  Herein lies the value of the QMS, not only serving to establish the “what & how” but also providing sound evidence for the “why”. Validation and verification processes provide stakeholders valuable insight into the effectiveness and efficiency of their processes.  Relying on data rather than hearsay is not only technically sound but more importantly, transparent and defendable.  

Now, if you’re new to quality management principles and are setting out to build your first QMS, you may feel a little intimidated by all of this.  That’s only natural, as these systems are complex, and as touched on earlier,  the business of cannabis is no walk in the park.  One thing to keep in mind as you begin the process of planning and building your QMS is to keep it simple, at least to start. You might feel inclined to try to capture every detail of your operations or plan for every contingency,  but it’s not necessary. 

Once quality objectives are defined, you should perform a risk assessment to identify the key operational risks to meeting these objectives.  The top 3-5 risks identified in the assessment are a good starting point for the priorities of the QMS. Keeping it simple and manageable is the best approach to implementing a QMS system with success. It will be easier to get further buy-in from your team and add incrementally to a system with proven results than scaling back on a system that stumbled or failed from the get-go. 

Quality is an Organization Mindset

Quality is not produced in a silo; it is an operational mindset that permeates an entire organization.  When you’re ready to implement the QMS, it’s critical to align your entire team, from executives to associates, with an understanding of the purpose and the value of the QMS. Once your team is committed to the process, the system will provide the structure and insight necessary to achieve customer satisfaction through product quality. However, suppose your executives or management team are unwilling to adopt essential improvements when data indicates the need for change. In that case, the system becomes compromised, and quality is no longer the objective.  

The importance of quality is undeniable and carries enormous value in the highly competitive world of commercial cannabis. A formal QMS shows your commitment to quality to customers and staff, not to mention the benefits of increased customer satisfaction, stronger brand loyalty, greater profitability, and higher staff engagement, just to name a few. Regardless of what sector you operate in or where in the business life cycle you might be, implementing a formal QMS will put you on the path to achieving long-term success in the industry.