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Project Management in the Cannabis Industry: An Insider View


Project Management in the Cannabis Industry: An Insider View

Canada recently legalized recreational cannabis use on October 17, 2018 and making it the second country in the world after Uruguay (2013) to legalize its sale and distribution. In anticipation of this announcement, there has been tremendous growth in the cannabis industry in Canada with numerous startups opening shop and attracting interest from various industries including big pharma and consumer goods firms like Coca-Cola and Novartis. There has also been a boom in job generation in this sector which also reflects the industry’s desire to become the global pioneer and expand internationally. There are around 30 countries that currently allow legalized marijuana and the scale being built in Canada can be leveraged to expand in these markets.

The sector is however, not without its challenges. According to a recent report from EY, an unclear regulatory landscape and capacity issues are some of the main challenges facing firms in the Cannabis industry in Canada. This could stem from slow granting of licenses and law makers still understanding the impact of legalization to update laws and regulations. I recently caught up with a rising star in the industry (and a PMP nonetheless) - Benetta 
Yogendran (Project Manager, Origin House), to get her insights on the industry. 

Origin House is a growing cannabis products and brands company operating across key markets in the U.S. and Canada, with a strategic focus on becoming a preeminent global house of cannabis brands. Origin House has been on a growth trajectory, having recently closed the acquisition of RVR Distribution, cementing its foundation in California, the world’s largest regulated cannabis market. In addition, in September 2018, Origin House signed a binding term sheet to acquire 100% of investee, 180 Smoke, one of Canada’s dominant online and retail vape operator, with plans to enter the Canadian cannabis brands market. 

During my meeting with Benetta Yogendran, she discussed the numerous challenges faced by a fast-growing startup in a rapidly growing industry where regulations and compliance requirements for recreation cannabis use are in the process of being defined and established. drafted. Based on her experience, the main challenges she encountered included: 

  1. Introducing project management: When introducing a new framework to a start-up company, there may be lack of comprehension, and hence support. This impacts the effective execution of projects as there will need to be continuous education and promotion of project management while continuing to build the project management team and structure for the Project Management Office (PMO).
  2. Growing pains: As with any startup that is rapidly scaling, the systems and processes developed had to adapt constantly while establishing new processes or framework to suit an ever-expanding workforce. All the while maintaining a strong workplace culture without impacting operations or consumers.
  3. Regulatory uncertainty: Compared to other sectors, the cannabis industry faces a more uncertain landscape with regards to regulations. This has the potential to impact recruitment, logistics and finance among other sectors as stakeholders such as banks, potential employees and vendors are unsure on implications of working in the industry. 

In a rapidly expanding organization, Benetta Yogendran elaborated on the challenges as well as successes that she encountered as she introduced the Project Management (PM) function within the company as well as while setting up project management structures and frameworks. This initially involved educating her colleagues on PM and the benefits of implementing the framework within the company while resolving misconceptions such as "project management is predominantly documentation and note taking."

By being able to manage timelines and budgets on new projects especially facility acquisition and development, she was able to demonstrate the benefits of establishing a PM structure and the necessary metrics to monitor projects. This resulted in expanding of the project management team which now houses six (6) project managers and coordinators with continuous recruitment for experienced and energetic project management professionals.

Finally, when asked on what are the lessons learnt from a project management perspective that could find application in other startups she advised the following:

  1. You can't buy a platform to solve a problem or inefficiencies with existing processes: Before buying a platform, understand your requirements, define your users and identify existing challenges. Once a platform is selected, ensure that there is a process established which clearly outlines how this platform will be used. She elaborated on how startups deploy multiple platforms as a quick solution but fail to understand the challenges involved with implementation or use the platforms for its intended purposes thus impacting the users and established processes time and money invested.
  2. Disseminate the right information: As startups continue to scale up operations, the company changes from a flat structure to vertical structure with different levels of management. It is important to define reporting mechanism and metrics for the different levels of management so the stakeholders receive information that are relevant in order to make necessary decisions, escalate issues or be aware of the various moving pieces within the company.
  3. Project management is a framework: Theories and methodologies found in Project Management Body of Knowledge are just a framework to prevent reinvention of the wheel and leverage it as a guiding principle to help project managers navigate through the uncertainty and challenging components involved with being part of a start-up company. Understand that your stakeholders will have limited understanding of this framework so adapt to your users and continue to communicate the benefits.
  4. Ready to be adaptable: As a start-up company experiencing tremendous growth in a growing industry, waterfall methodology may not be applicable as priorities continue to shift or have shortened timelines so the project management team will need be more agile and allow planning to be a continuous iterative process.

In conclusion, project management and its tools and techniques can add a lot of value to the startup world and as we see greater adoption of agile practices, the impact is being valued and increasingly adopted by executive management at such firms.

About Origin House

Origin House is a growing cannabis products and brands company operating across key markets in the U.S. and Canada, with a strategic focus on becoming a preeminent global house of cannabis brands. The Company’s foundation is in California, the world’s largest regulated cannabis market, where it delivers over 130 branded cannabis products to the majority of licensed dispensaries. Origin House’s brand development platform is operated out of five licensed facilities located across California, and provides distribution, manufacturing, cultivation and marketing services for its brand partners. The Company is actively developing infrastructure to support the proliferation of its brands internationally, initially through its acquisition of Canadian retailer 180 Smoke. Origin House’s shares trade on the Canadian Securities Exchange (CSE) under the symbol “OH” and on the OTCQX under the symbol “ORHOF”. Origin House is the registered business name of CannaRoyalty Corp. For more information, visit www.originhouse.com

About the Author

Anand Menon is a seasoned project management professional with experience in Railways, E-commerce , financial services and Marketing. Anand comes from an engineering background and holds an MBA as well as an MSc in Project Management.


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