Developing a grounded theory to explain the practices of self-organizing Agile teams


Software Engineering researchers are constantly looking to improve the quantity and quality of their research findings through the use of an appropriate research methodology. Over the last decade, there has been a sustained increase in the number of researchers exploring the human and social aspects of Software Engineering, many of whom have used Grounded Theory. We have used Grounded Theory as a qualitative research method to study 40 Agile practitioners across 16 software organizations in New Zealand and India and explore how these Agile teams self-organize. We use our study to demonstrate the application of Grounded Theory to Software Engineering. In doing so, we present (a) a detailed description of the Grounded Theory methodology in general and its application in our research in particular; (b) discuss the major challenges we encountered while performing Grounded Theory’s various activities and our strategies for overcoming these challenges; and (c) we present a sample of our data and results to illustrate the artifacts and outcomes of Grounded Theory research.

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We thank all the participants of our study. This research is generously supported by an Agile Alliance academic grant and a BuildIT PhD scholarship (NZ). Thanks to Dr. George Allan for his help.

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Correspondence to Rashina Hoda.

Additional information

Editors: Carolyn Seaman, Jonathan Sillito, Rafael Prikladnicki, Tore Dybå, and Kari Rönkkö



Table 3 A glossary of grounded theory terms

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Hoda, R., Noble, J. & Marshall, S. Developing a grounded theory to explain the practices of self-organizing Agile teams. Empir Software Eng 17, 609–639 (2012).

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  • Empirical research
  • Software engineering
  • Grounded theory
  • Agile software development
  • Self-organizing