Empirical Software Engineering

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 487–513 | Cite as

Using grounded theory to study the experience of software development



Grounded Theory is a research method that generates theory from data and is useful for understanding how people resolve problems that are of concern to them. Although the method looks deceptively simple in concept, implementing Grounded Theory research can often be confusing in practice. Furthermore, despite many papers in the social science disciplines and nursing describing the use of Grounded Theory, there are very few examples and relevant guides for the software engineering researcher. This paper describes our experience using classical (i.e., Glaserian) Grounded Theory in a software engineering context and attempts to interpret the canons of classical Grounded Theory in a manner that is relevant to software engineers. We provide model to help the software engineering researchers interpret the often fuzzy definitions found in Grounded Theory texts and share our experience and lessons learned during our research. We summarize these lessons learned in a set of fifteen guidelines.


Empirical software engineering research Grounded theory Qualitative research Theory generation 



The authors would like to thank the Scrum Alliance and the Agile Alliance for their generous support of this research.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Electrical and Computer EngineeringUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  2. 2.School of NursingUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  3. 3.Electrical and Computer EngineeringUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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