Prioritising your Product Backlog through Research: Grounded Theory and Coding

Waeg Envision

Picture this: you are the Product Owner of a B2B Commerce platform. You have come up with numerous ideas on how to develop your product, from various angles based on information gathered from different departments of your company, as well as from the users.

You also did competitor research to better understand the market. Your backlog is full of tickets to follow up on but one issue remains: where and how to start. What you’re still missing is clarity on what the top priorities are for your users, and that’s why it seems hard to decide what should be tackled and improved first. 

One of the most important responsibilities of the Product Owner/Manager is to decide (based on the scope and sequence of functionalities for the development team) what to focus on. Prioritisation is needed as resources are not infinite - in a rapidly changing business environment, product enhancements are meant to deliver the biggest value at any given time. There are many ways to prioritise product functionality, and one of them is with Grounded Theory and Coding.

What is Grounded Theory?

The Grounded Theory (GT) is a system of qualitative research methods, aimed at introducing a structure based largely on empirical research. The theory was developed in the 1960s by B. Glaser and A. Strauss- The Discovery of Grounded Theory.

The goal of the Grounded Theory is to draw conclusions in the field of user research based on empirical experience. For example, if I have eaten delicious pizza 20 times in the same restaurant and  5 people share with me that experience, then on this basis I can conclude that pizza in that restaurant is indeed good. The theory is supported by research.

It’s all about data

This sentence is the quintessence of the Grounded Theory. It means that everything that the researcher encounters while exploring a given topic is considered data. 

Research techniques include:

  • interviews with users, 

  • bug reports from the customer support team (that indicate key issues with the product),

  • feedback from potential customers during the product demonstration,

  • information from the sales team,

  • informal conversations with clients (e.g. during a conference),

  • ...and much more.

Key steps to make an efficient and successful research

Step 1: Open coding: Mark and examine the quotes

Once you have collected your data, you should start examining every line, sentence, and formulation and mark the quotes that are important and interesting .

E.g. in terms of the question: What is this? or What is being referenced here?

Step 2: Axial coding: Define the categories of those quotes

These categories will help you classify the quotes. Here, you can use readily available templates but you can also go beyond and try to define your own research categories. 

E.g. Empathy map (feel - do - say - think),

Step 3: Selective coding: Selection and Development of categories

In this step, the main category is selected from the previously created categories and then set in relation to the other categories. Around the main category, we are creating sub-categories (code families). Based on that we can reject or confirm the needs of the category and the following step will be to prioritise our backlog. 


The Grounded Theory is a set of simple rules that organise data and feedback, both inside and outside the organisation, which helps determine the sequence of changes to the product that will create the greatest value. Remember that this does not conflict with methodologies such as agile or lean, but rather aims to support them in the decision-making process. The Grounded Theory helps you understand which new features are addressing issues encountered by the user and responding to their needs. The aim is to quantify the impact of a given change on users, with the use of data classification.

Interesting reads to know more about the topic

  • The Discovery of Grounded Theory, Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss 

  • Borgatti S. (2016), Introduction to Grounded Theory.

Retrieved from on 8 September 2018.

If you’re interested in learning more on this topic or exchanging ideas feel free to reach out to me on my LinkedIn.



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