How to Develop Cannabis Products for Your Market

In this definitive guide, you’ll learn the five essential steps you’ll need to take in order to develop cannabis products that will sell well—regardless of the level of competition or saturation in your market.
Cannabis Plant - Develop Cannabis Products

Have you noticed how most cannabis products on the market struggle to win? By win, I mean to capture and retain significant market share, with consistent sales growth over time. Really think about it for a second. Don’t get me wrong—there are definitely brands that know how to successfully develop cannabis products, and often those brands have huge consumer followings as a result.

But the average cannabis product launched by the average cannabis company typically fails to penetrate the market in a meaningful way—if it manages to get off the ground at all.

Why is this? You may be surprised to know that up to 90% of new products fail within their first year across consumer packaged goods industries collectively. If we look at cannabis products specifically, can we discover clearer patterns that help differentiate successful products—and the teams behind them—from the unsuccessful ones?

It’s actually not a unique cause—it’s due to the same reasons that plague brands in other industries. Product success really comes down to having a well-defined, effective process, versus a poorly planned one, or worse yet—not having a process or plan at all. We all know this industry is growing tougher by the minute, and the days of just throwing stuff at the wall to see what’ll stick are long gone.

This stage of cannabis product management is called product development—and it’s the first part of the product management life cycle. This comprehensive guide will outline the five steps that need to be taken to end up with a solid product offering that you can be confident will connect with your target consumers and sell well—regardless of the particular dynamics or competitiveness of your market(s).


Step 1. Bring on a Dedicated Product Champion

There are many historic accounts of people embarking on journeys without a guide, or losing their guide mid-journey, resulting in their demise. These stories serve as a reminder of the importance of having someone responsible for charting the course and ensuring the party stays on track.

Yet, despite this relative bit of common sense, most cannabis companies don’t have a dedicated person charting the course of their product development. Is it any wonder that so many of those journeys end in failure as a result?

Having a dedicated product manager  (who I dub the “Product Champion”) on your team is the first and most important step that can be taken towards ensuring your product is a success. When I say “dedicated,” I mean that managing products is their full time job.

It’s not the job of the Director of Marketing. It’s not the job of the Director of Production. It’s definitely not the job of the Director of Sales. Each of these people has major departmental responsibilities and priorities that demand their attention and are outside of the scope of product development. Yet, companies commonly burden these types of employees with new product projects, because they don’t have the right person on the team.

The Danger of Not Having a Dedicated Product Manager

What transpires is pretty standard, and it should be relatively easy to understand why it happens. The person who effectively has two full time roles (their normal departmental management position, and the added role of Product Manager) grows increasingly overwhelmed, and their normal work suffers as a result.

Typically, such a person is someone without real product manager experience, so they approach the development process haphazardly—and sporadically, since they have to fit the tasks in between their regular day-to-day stuff. First come delays as priorities are missed, which results in top-down pressure to get back on track—on track with a deadline that was most likely chosen arbitrarily.

So now, the team rushes to sloppily get something to the finish line, pushing aside such obligations as, “making sure the product works” and, “confirming that consumers actually want the product.” The product makes it to the finish line, and initial orders of hardware and packaging are placed with suppliers.

Launch day comes, and the sales team is ready to roar into action. They’re handed a few samples and told to go meet with as many retail buyers as they can. When the sales reps ask for collateral to include with the samples, they’re often told that “something will be coming soon.”

Flash forward a few months—sales have averaged between $0 and $3,000 per month. Buyers either reject decline to place an order, ghost the sales rep, or push off a purchase to a later, undefined date. Retailers that do move forward with an order place tiny ones, and then don’t re-up because the product just sits on their shelves until they throw it in the discount bin.

The company ends up moving the remaining inventory at fire sale prices and the executive team complains about the sunk costs associated with all the packaging that is now of no use.

The Transformative Power of a Product Champion

In business, a “champion” refers to an individual who is committed to the success of a particular effort, project or campaign—and in this case, that is the product. The champion isn’t always the owner of the subject matter (the person responsible for the outcome), but unless you’re a large company with, say, a Chief Product Officer (who might be the champion of the products) who oversees a team of Product Managers (the owners of particular products), then it’s probably most logical for the product champion and the product owner to be same individual.

A dedicated Product Manager brings balance and focus to product development. They juggle both production and marketing needs, gather the best insights from both departments, and keep them in alignment with respect to the product. Yet, while doing this, the Product Manager prioritizes the product’s success above all else, and this is key.

It’s not easy for production, focused on cost control and quality, and marketing, focused on innovation and customer engagement, to agree on product decisions. Product delays are often the result of both departments being at opposite ends of the spectrum, and unwilling to concede.

This is where the Product Manager steps in. Ideally, they should operate independently of production and marketing to avoid conflicts of interest. If reporting to one of these departments, they should still make the final decisions on product development, given that they’re directly accountable for the product’s success.

Promoting product management from a “when-time-allows” task to a core function creates a significant competitive edge. The Product Manager acts as the guide that charts the course and prevents the team from getting lost along the way.

What Makes a Great Cannabis Product Manager?

Effective Product Managers merge a keen understanding of the cannabis market with an ability to manage various product development stages effectively. They embody a unique blend of strategic vision, technical and analytical prowess, and interpersonal skills, which they use to oversee the entire product development lifecycle.

They create and maintain the product management documents, leverage data analytics to monitor the market and competition, champion the strategic vision of each product, and ensure seamless product-related communication across different departments.

They stay in tune with the desires and needs of the target market and use these insights to guide the product’s features and capabilities. They keep an eye on market trends and competitive activities through regular analytics reports and periodic competitive analyses. They are the visionary for the product offering, aligning all stakeholders around this vision.

In essence, a great Product Manager is the linchpin that connects the various threads of product development. They are the ones who translate consumer needs into successful products, drive strategic vision, and ensure cross-departmental alignment.

Copy and paste the responsibilities and qualifications on the roles in this swipe file to more easily create job postings when looking for exceptional employees to lead your product and production efforts.

Step 2. Generate Solid Product Ideas with SCAMPER

There’s a pervasive myth that innovation requires one to invent something completely new, yet this couldn’t be further from the truth. Think about some of the most successful, innovative products of the modern era—like air fryers, the iPhone, and even ChatGPT.

None of them were invented from thin air. Air fryers are an obvious evolution of convection ovens and pressure cookers. The iPhone simply took two existing concepts—the MP3 player and cellular phone—and combined them together. ChatGPT wasn’t the first large language model—although it’s currently the most well-known—with Google involved in developing LLMs since 2018, and LLMs in general evolving from earlier language models.

My point is that innovation is about providing a solution to a problem, in a manner that is superior to anything else currently available. “Superior” in the context of problem solving can mean any number of things—more affordable, quicker, simpler, more enjoyable, more consistent, etc.

Creating great products doesn’t require a team of Thomas Edisons on your payroll—you just need to understand what your market really wants, and have the right system in place to generate, validate, and execute on ideas for addressing those wants. The first step is to generate the ideas, which involves a brainstorming process called “ideation.”


Why Having a System Matters

Before we dive into ideation, let’s discuss why a system is so important. You might be thinking, “Ben, we’re selling cannabis, not space tech. Do we really need a system?”

In a word, yes. If it were a breeze, every brand in the cannabis industry would be thriving. But as we know all too well, reality tells a different story. Many brands either barely stay afloat, crash within their first year, or don’t even make it to the starting line. And when we examine their approach to ideation, it’s relatively easy to see why they’re struggling.

In the context of cannabis product development, I’ve seen two types of problematic leadership styles in my career—we will call them the “Detached Delegators” and the “Instagram Ideators.”

Detached Delegators are those who lack genuine passion for the industry. They’re primarily motivated by money and asset acquisition, often outsourcing product decisions to out-of-touch marketing consultants, and even leaving the task of building a production team entirely in the hands of someone without the skills, experience or support system to effectively build a quality operation.

These apathetic leaders are commonly called “Chads.” Their companies usually produce high volume, but uninspiring products (aka “mids factories”). They manage to survive by monopolizing licenses in limited markets, not by winning customers over in open, competitive landscapes. If you’re reading this, chances are, you’re not part of this group.

On the other end, we have the Instagram Ideators. These are typically more passionate entrepreneurs, but heavily reliant on platforms like Instagram to keep up with what other brands are putting onto the market.

In fact, they draw so much inspiration from what they see online that their product ideas often end up mirroring those of other brands. The issue here is that they’re merely replicating what already exists, rather than focusing on the core purpose of business—to provide solutions that address consumer wants and needs.

The consumer isn’t even part of their equation, other than perhaps judging how well-received a competitor’s product is. As a result, these copy-cat products often fall short of projections, and fail to pique the market’s interest in a meaningful way. This is less due to a lack of desire to build exceptional products (unlike the “Chads” of the industry) and more due to the lack of a solid framework with which to pursue new product ideation.


How SCAMPER Enables Real Ideation

One of the best, industry-agnostic tools to use for brainstorming ideas is called SCAMPER. No, it’s not the team of bad guys from the new Marvel movie—it’s an acronym that stands for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify/Magnify/Minify, Put to Another Use, Eliminate, and Rearrange/Reverse.

Considering that some of those actions don’t relate to cannabis particularly well—and more importantly, it doesn’t really flow off the tongue—I’ve simplified it for our purpose to:

  • Substitute: can you replace an aspect of an existing cannabis product?
  • Combine: can you group existing cannabis products into a new product?
  • Adapt: can you add features or functionality to an existing cannabis product?
  • Modify: can you change one or more aspects of an existing cannabis product?
  • Purpose: can you repurpose an existing cannabis or non-cannabis product?
  • Eliminate: can an aspect of an existing cannabis product be removed or simplified?
  • Reengineer: can an existing cannabis production process be reorganized to create a unique product?

Start by considering the macro (national/global) and micro (state/province/regional) markets, and what products are currently out there. This will give you a jumping-off point from which to begin your ideation process.

The best approach to performing this process is to get the project team (including the Product Manager, and a representative from the Marketing and Production departments at a minimum) together with a whiteboard and start listing ideas for each component of the model. After you’ve completed the list, go back and analyze each in the context of your team’s core competencies and available resources, eliminating ones that don’t fit within your area of strength.


How STIIIZY Took Over California

In California back in 2017, you pretty much had three options for cannabis vapes: your typical 510 thread cartridges (like CCELL), proprietary disposables (like Dosist, coming in at a cool $100 per half gram), and licensable pod systems (like PAX and G Pen).

There were also non-proprietary disposables available, but they were absolute lemons (as I learned the hard way during my first vape product launch), and the 510 cartridges had their own share of troubles with leaking, clogging and burning issues. The pod systems provided a better experience, but had some issues with flavor, vapor production, etc.

This was partially due to the fact that the devices were not custom-tailored to any particular product—they were still universal hardware being used by multiple brands, each with unique formulations, terpene levels and oil viscosities. STIIIZY, which launched in 2017, saw this as an opportunity to come to market with a superior vaping device.

Some of the founding members had come from both the e-liquid industry—and thus had substantial experience with customizing hardware to meet their needs. Others came from the medical cannabis industry—having owned numerous dispensaries all over SoCal for years, providing them with an intimate understanding of their target consumer, and how existing options on the market were failing to optimally address their wants and needs.

After identifying a pod system that had what they were looking for, they made the strategic move to partner with the manufacturer, effectively turning the hardware into a proprietary device, so that no other company could use it.

They then customized the specs to be a perfect match for their oil, resulting in a pod device that provided a much better experience than anything else on the market—and that could only be used with STIIIZY oils. The rest is history—today STIIIZY is the largest cannabis vape brand in the world, and practically a household name.


You Can Do the Same Thing

Here’s the thing: STIIIZY didn’t have to invent some entirely new product that had never been seen before in order to accomplish this—they just had to analyze the products available on the market and improve upon them in a way that their target market appreciated.

This is good news—you don’t have to rely on dumb luck, or having the massive warchest required to gain access to restricted markets in order to create successful products. The first step is to use tools like SCAMPER to analyze current competitor offerings, and to help you think of how you can provide something better to those who you’ll be targeting with your products.

Step 3. Validate Your Product Ideas

After going through the ideation process, you’ve come up with some amazing cannabis product ideas that you’re certain are going to make you millions—congratulations! Before you start booking that trip to Vegas however, let’s step back for a second and ensure that the market feels the same way.

It’s temptingly easy to get excited and emotionally attached to “good ideas”—but it’s also very dangerous, because emotional decisions and good business decisions are rarely aligned. Too often I have seen leaders stubbornly refuse to adjust their plans based on market feedback they’re receiving, or objective data that doesn’t support their vision, due to an attachment to their idea.

Think about it this way: you might be obsessed with a vegan cheese recipe that to you is the best thing ever made, but opening a vegan cheese shop in the middle of a big dairy town probably wouldn’t be a smart business move. The same universal truth holds for cannabis products as well.

You need to make sure that your ideas specifically address the wants or needs of your target market. You personally liking the idea (no matter to what degree) doesn’t have any real correlation to whether the market will like it or not. If during your research, you discover that your proposed solutions are solving non-existent problems in your target market, you’ll have to have the discipline to return to the drawing board and try again.


Analyze Product Market Data

The first step in validating your product ideas is to analyze market data. This involves using various data analytics platforms like Pistil Data, or BDSA to determine which product categories:

  • are in high demand
  • are in low demand
  • have high competition
  • have low competition

By tracking these metrics over time, you can identify any trends and map out which segments have the best opportunities for you—especially if you weigh them against your core competencies.

For example, if the infused pre-roll segment of the market is trending upward with a relatively low level of competition, and on top of that, you have access to a machine that can produce infused pre-rolls in an incredibly efficient way, then that could very well be your golden ticket idea (and… obligatory Office reference, check).

Now, I know it may sound intimidating to use fancy analytics tools if you don’t have prior experience with similar platforms, but it’s actually not as daunting as you might think. You don’t actually need to be a data scientist to make sense of the data—these platforms tend to have relatively user-friendly interfaces, plus you can export the data into a spreadsheet and then sort and format it however you’d like.


Scope Out Your Competition

Now that you’ve analyzed market data to determine high-demand, low-competition product categories that align with your core competencies, it’s time to dive into a competitive analysis. This step will help you get a sense of who your biggest competitors are, and what they’re doing, so you can identify potential threats and opportunities in the market.

To get started, list out all the major players in the product category you’re interested in exploring further. This should include both direct competitors (other companies selling products similar to yours) and indirect competitors (companies selling dissimilar products that may still compete with yours).

Next, gather relevant information on each competitor, such as their market position, ability to innovate, and the strength of their strategic plan. After compiling all of this information, score your competitors on each of the categories above to see which ones pose the biggest threat to your success, and where you can position your product offering to best leverage your strengths and your competitors’ weaknesses.


Getting in the Trenches

Now that you have identified your top 2-3 product ideas based on market data analysis and competitor analysis, it’s time to gather feedback from your target consumers. This is where you really get to understand what your potential customers want and need, and how they perceive the product ideas you’re proposing to address those wants and needs.

To do this, you should use a combination of online and offline efforts. Online, you can reach your target market by having conversations in online communities they frequent, or through the promotion of online surveys—via those same communities, and/or your social media channels.

Engaging in face-to-face conversations with budtenders at dispensaries, and consumers at public consumption events can provide a diverse range of offline feedback. Budtenders in particular can amplify the individual consumer’s voice as they interact with several customers daily.

To ensure you have a large enough sample size to make real assumptions about your market, aim for at least 100 responses—but ideally, you’ll want closer to 400 responses to get a highly accurate representation of your target audience.


Ask the Right Questions

What questions you ask, and the way in which you ask them is as important as the number of folks you engage in your surveys. You’ll want to understand things like:

  • if your product idea solves a problem they currently have
  • what features and benefits are most important to them
  • how likely they would be to purchase your product
  • what other similar products they currently like or hate, and why

In general, open-ended questions are better than close-ended (yes/no) questions, as they prevent you from artificially limiting the survey participant’s answer to a binary one. Additionally, avoid posing questions in a way that imparts a bias, or you’re going to skew your answers. For example, if you ask someone if they would prefer a really terpy, bright live resin, or a bland, poop-soup cured resin, what do you think their answer will be?

As a side note, keep in mind that these three efforts are not designed to be just a one-time thing. It’s important to keep monitoring market metrics, the competitive environment, and target consumer opinions on an ongoing basis, so you can adapt to changes in the market and stay ahead of the curve.

Step 4. Create Prototypes Using the FLO Method

My first venture into developing a cannabis product line ended in abject failure. A business partner and I had devised a concept for a line of disposable vape pens, with each SKU being a unique blend designed to be used in a particular situation. The initial idea was well received by our target market.

We did spend time testing the formulations, which we sampled out in regular 510 cartridges in an effort to get them into the hands of beta testers as quickly as possible. We had excellent feedback, and our testers were obsessed with the products to say the least. Due to the great feedback and feeling we were pressed for time, we ordered 15,000 disposable vape units from a well-known supplier, loaded them with our formulas, and launched our product into the market.

Orders started flowing in—we were confident that we had developed a winning product and were ready to start scaling quickly. But then, one of the first stores to purchase from us let us know that almost half of the units they’d sold had been returned due to the vape’s battery burning out (this was in the days before rechargeable disposables were a thing).

Then, another store gave us the same feedback. A third store’s very upset buyer called us, letting us know that he had to take the product off the shelves and that he wanted a full refund for his $25k order—because the vapes were burning out 25-40% of the way through the oil, rendering them useless.

That same day, the first store that had called us, called again to tell us that 100% of the units they’d sold had been returned, and they too wanted a refund. By now we were in a panic, as we realized that the units we had purchased for $4 a piece, filled with $6 worth of distillate and terpenes and packaged in $1.50 boxes had almost a 100% defect rate—which meant we had just wasted close to $200,000 on garbage products that needed to be recalled.


A Lack of Testing Costs More Than Just Money

Looking back, the sunk cost wasn’t even the worst consequence of the mistake we made—the brand was effectively ruined because everyone’s first commercial experience with the products was terrible. We ended up fixing the issue with better hardware, but were never able to gain back the trust we’d lost.

The biggest mistake we made was that we didn’t fully test our product. We tested the formula, sure—and that was a step in the right direction. A lot of companies don’t even do that much. But, in our haste, we failed to test our hardware to make sure that everything related to the product was good to go before committing to production and product launch.

Our experience isn’t that unique. I’ve noticed that cannabis businesses in general often treat their ventures, including individual projects, as a sprint rather than a marathon. Driven by a sense of urgency, they end up bypassing critical stages in the process, thinking they lack the time and bandwidth to navigate them thoroughly.

This can have devastating results, the cost of which is exponentially higher than the initial cost of time and resources required to approach prototyping in the proper manner.


Using the Feedback Loop Optimization Method for Prototyping

Now that you have your prototype’s marching orders, it’s time to build out your iterative testing process. This involves what I refer to as the “Feedback Loop Optimization” (AKA FLO) Method—what I consider to be the ideal approach of iteratively testing and improving your prototypes.

The first step is a question you need to ask yourself—who’s going to produce these things? Seems silly to ask, but I’ve personally witnessed multiple companies enter a self-imposed prototype purgatory because they insisted on developing the prototypes in-house even though they didn’t have the necessary equipment or people to get it done.

Even if you plan to eventually make the final products in-house, if you don’t have the needed equipment (or licensing, or whatever) to get the prototypes developed, it’s worth considering a contract manufacturing partner to produce them for you. Keep in mind, a proper prototype testing process can take a couple of months to perform—especially if you identify a lot of changes that need to be made during the testing process.

So, if you’re waiting on critical components to produce in-house, it’s probably more efficient to wait them out while you’re testing prototypes, rather than holding the entire process up.

Secondly, you’ll want to plan out your approach. Depending on the product you’ll be making, and which suppliers you’ll be working with, you might have to go through several functional iterations before settling on a final design. In cases like this, it’s usually best to test functionality first, and aesthetics after.

Once you’re ready to go, gather the necessary materials to create your prototype, produce your initial prototype iteration, and map out a testing process. You’ll want to have a group of individuals who match your target market and are willing to provide in depth, constructive feedback. Considering they’ll be getting a bunch of free cannabis products to consume, this usually isn’t a very hard sell, hah.

Hand out test samples, give enough time for consumption (e.g. a week or two for a vape cartridge to get through the entire thing, a couple of days for a pre-roll, etc), collect feedback, and then iterate on your prototype as needed. Rinse and repeat this process until your team is confident that your offering will be defect-free and attractive enough to your market that they’ll spend their money on it.


MVP: Does Your Product Need to Be Perfect?

No, I’m not referring to LeBron James when I say MVP. I’m referring to the “minimum viable product” and it’s important to understand the concept as it relates to product development and prototyping. Emphasis is on the word “minimum”—because it’s critical that you don’t let perfect become the enemy of good.

In other words, you don’t need to perfect your product to release it. Trying to perfect a product before you launch it will result in you never launching it—just sinking more and more money into an endless R&D cycle.

All you need to do to get to the initial launch is ensure that your product is defect-free. There is a big difference between adding a desired feature (a want), and ensuring the product works properly without issue (a need). You should try to never release a product that doesn’t address the needs of the target consumer—but the wants can be phased in over time.

Think about a tech company like Canva. Canva’s first release was nowhere near as feature-rich as their current iteration, but it was good enough to get it to market. Then, they were able to use customer feedback and further ideation/innovation to build on the MVP they had originally released. This is called a development roadmap, and is a standard part of product management across all industries.

So again, using the FLO Method, address the needs of the consumer up front, and ensure the product is defect-free. Figure out which wants you can incorporate into your first release, and then phase in the rest post-launch. Don’t focus on perfection, but do focus on preventing any defects from making their way to the final prototype. Taking the time (and expense) to go through this process correctly will pay off exponentially when you launch your product.

Step 5. Map Out Your Product’s Workflow

A product idea and prototype might be great, but as you prepare to launch your product into the market, if you can’t reliably produce it to the same specifications every time, then you’re setting yourself up for problems. Lots of companies just rely on the person in charge of manufacturing to manage the process in their head, and leave it at that. This is a huge issue for multiple reasons:

  • What happens if your head of manufacturing leaves the company, gets sick and is out for multiple weeks, or worse? How do you retain all of that knowledge that resided in their head?
  • What happens as you scale up your business, and the head of manufacturing needs to focus on higher level tasks, rather than executing the process directly? How do you ensure that another manufacturing team member creates an identical product, when there’s no instructions to go off of?
  • How do you improve on the manufacturing process over time, without it being documented in a way that can be reviewed and adjusted?

Documentation is crucial for all of these reasons, and more.


The Benefits of Documenting Processes

Documented processes allow others to follow the same process, thereby creating the same consistent output. You’re also establishing a way for the team to analyze and improve on the process over time, since you can’t build upon something that hasn’t itself been built yet.

Having a documented process also immortalizes it, and transfers ownership from the head of manufacturing to the company. Imagine if your company decided to use a bank account owned by an employee as the company account and stored all of the company funds in there. It would be hard to argue that the cash was an asset belonging to the company—after all, the employee could simply disappear, along with all the cash, and the company would be screwed.

Most people would scoff at the idea of using an employee’s account as the company’s bank account, because it’s so preposterous. Yet, in effect many are doing the same thing with a different asset—goodwill—by allowing it to remain in the sole possession of the employee, contained within their head.

That person leaving the company with that knowledge could potentially be as damaging as if they left with the company’s cash. Despite all this, so many companies fail to prioritize it, and don’t realize they’re hanging on the edge of a cliff as a result.


The Power of the Process Map

I believe the two main reasons for the lack of focus on documentation are:

  1. a lack of familiarity with the concept, and
  2. too much emphasis on SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures)

The first problem is easy to resolve, but the second problem… too much emphasis on SOPs?

I know this seems like an odd take, but while SOPs are very important over the medium and long term, they can be an overwhelming and unnecessary place to start. Let’s not force the team to go from no documentation at all, to a big library of extensive, complicated documents—that no worker has access to, or would derive any value from.

Instead, let’s start with an easy first step that kills two birds with one stone: getting the process out of the manufacturing owner’s head onto paper, and creating a useful, visual set of instructions that other team members can easily follow. As such, the process map is the best place to start.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, take a look at this article for a quick rundown of mapping and the types of symbols that constitute such maps. In a nutshell, you’ll be drawing a flow chart that shows every step of the process from start to finish—including any inputs and outputs, the processes related to those transformations, steps that involve a decision to be made, and the different branches that are a result of said decisions.

The shapes just allow you to see at a glance what that step entails. For example, inputs and outputs would be represented as parallelograms, while decisions are diamonds. Subprocesses are rectangles, and the beginning/end of the process are shown as stadium shapes.


The Process Mapping Process

The creation of process maps should be a standardized affair in its own right. Yep, process mapping the process mapping process. If that isn’t meta AF, I don’t know what is!

I recommend that the owner of the process (within the processing & manufacturing department in the case of product prototyping) schedules a meeting that includes any stakeholders who should have input into the process specifics (such as the Product Manager and the marketing/production representative members of the Product Management committee), as well as any team members who are currently performing the process (if applicable).

Gather around a whiteboard and begin narrating the process while sketching the narrative into a workflow draft on the whiteboard. Feel free to make small adjustments in real time, but leave the more substantial review for after the first draft has been drawn up. This will prevent distractions that extend the meeting too much.

After completing the first draft of the workflow, the team can discuss and fix any inaccuracies. This is also a good time to consider improvements in efficiency—for example, can a step be completely eliminated due to redundancy, or can two decision steps be merged into one? Adding QC checkpoints is also much easier once the process is mapped out.

Next, you’ll want to add in notes about where each step in the process takes place, who performs a particular step, and how the step is performed. Note: the “how” portion will eventually move into the SOP document(s) related to the process, but for now, it’s fine to include on the process map itself.

I personally like to implement a final step in my process mapping, where I show the workflow to someone who has no experience with the process, and ask them to walk through it for me. If they can make sense of it, then I believe it has enough information to be useful, without being so complicated that it’s confusing.

In my experience, going through a process mapping meeting just one time is very enlightening for participants, as they realize how much more difficult it is to evaluate processes in someone’s head than those that are drawn out.

Key Take-Aways

As I hope you can see by now, there’s a big gap between product development best practices and how most cannabis companies approach the creation of their offerings. It’s no wonder then that brands struggle to capture the hearts (and wallets) of consumers in their markets. When planning your next product, first ensure you are positioned for success by addressing the following:

  1. Hire a dedicated product manager. Their main focus will be the product’s success, which is not the case if you thrust the role onto someone else juggling multiple priorities. This minimizes potential biases and distractions that could compromise your product’s optimal outcome.
  2. Use the SCAMPER method for generating ideas. Using this framework as your starting point will allow your team to conceive of innovative solutions for your target consumers’ problems, that outperform existing options on the market.
  3. Validate your ideas. This can be achieved by analyzing market data and soliciting direct feedback from your target audience. Data is critical, but without getting into the field and speaking with the people who would be purchasing your products, you’re just guessing.
  4. Use the FLO Method for prototyping. This iterative method of designing, testing, and improving based on feedback allows for the refinement of your prototype, eventually leading to a minimum viable product.
  5. Map your product’s workflow into a diagram. This process not only democratizes knowledge ownership, moving it from the head of the process creator to the entire company, but also lays a solid foundation for future process improvements.

Take the time to properly incorporate these concepts into your cannabis product development approach, and you’ll find your efforts (and results) are miles ahead of the majority of the industry.

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