Since I’ve got a Grounded Theory focus right now, there’s something else I want to clear up.
12 does not equal theoretical saturation. Full theoretical development leads to theoretical saturation. And that is, of course, the stopping point for Grounded Theory research.
In my own experience, it was approximately 6 months in one field site, where I conducted approximately 200 interviews (mostly without a guide) and then visits to a number of other field sites. At these sites, I added another nearly 100 interviews, and the hours of observation in total are still measurable in months. In the end I visited seven different companies, although in my thesis I wrote about just three. At the seventh and last company, I heard nothing new with respect to my theory (I heard other things that were new but they concerned issues not relevant to the explanation I was attempting to build).
Since I was studying the relationship between technical and human dependencies in software development, it seemed crucial that I sample among different types of development, so I looked at companies who contracted, those who worked in a monopsony market, others who sold their software in the commercial marketplace. I wwanted to understand whether the market conditions had influence on my theory. I also tried to sample across size of company, start up small and growing to large stable organizations. Did size matter in coordination? I sampled across companies that built exclusively software for commercially available platforms, those that built on non-commercially available platforms, and those who built hardware. Where there differences based on the relationship to hardware, and did building hardware itself have any affect? Finally, I tried to get different types of product. Systems built for real-time operation, those for high reliability, others to address perceived or real consumer needs. In other words, to see whether the type of ode base and the prevailing concerns about its nature influenced my theory.
Throughout the six months at the field site, and throughout the remainder of the scheduling, visiting and meeting people at the other six sites, I conducted analysis. Data collection iterated with analysis. How many rounds did I do, I can’t even tell you. At first, I felt lost and bewildered, what on earth was I doing. Analysis generated more questions. Over time, the questions got more focused, and so the rounds of analysis and collection begun to converge and over time I got fairly specific questions.
I had gone in with a question about how software tools, specifically configuration management, structure the coordination of work that has an intangible quality i.e. software. Grounded Theory seemed like a good fit. First, I’d read a number of pieces about Articulation Work and knew that it was derived from Grounded Theory. So, thanks to Strauss I would be able to leverage the products of that theorising to give me direction in the form of a plan for my research questions, my interview questions, and some ideas of what I might find in my analysis and even some extra concepts to work with during my analysis (I looked for things that were similar, which is not hard given the nature of Grounded Theory analyses anyway).
There are other reasons, non Grounded Theory reasons to conduct research that may involve less empirical data than I collected. You may be evaluating a deployment (perhaps baselining and then evaluating). My point here is that that’s different from Grounded Theory, and should be treated as such, explicitly. As a colleague of mine says, when reading Grounded Theories, they always want to know what the theory is. If you don’t have one, how does it qualify.