What Is a Requirements Traceability Matrix? (With Benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 8, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Companies use a requirements traceability matrix to review the progress of projects over time. It allows them to compare deliverables at the beginning of projects with the deliverables at different intervals to assess the extent of progress. By learning more about this matrix, you can better assess projects and help to ensure that all team members understand their progress. In this article, we explain what a requirements traceability matrix is and how you can use it, explore its benefits, identify its types, and provide a guide to help you create one.

What is a requirements traceability matrix?

A requirements traceability matrix (RTM) can help you determine the relationship between a project's baseline and its documents. The baseline refers to the beginning of a project. You can use the baseline to compare project deliverables, scopes, and deadlines. You can also review the project advancement from the starting point. An RTM allows you to assess a team's performance and efficiency by determining the amount of time they take to complete tasks and objectives.

You can also use RTM tools to review a company or team's existing operations for task completion, which helps you determine whether these operations are effective. For example, if a project requires a risk analysis, you can assess whether the strategies used for the analysis accurately predicted the risks. Project managers also use RTM tools to help ensure the current processes and designs fulfill project guidelines.

Related: What Is Project Coordination and Why Is It Important?

Who uses an RTM?

Project managers often use RTMs. They're also common in professions that use or create software and hardware. They're especially useful in industries with high safety standards because they can help determine whether the standards are acceptable throughout the project. When used in software, an RTM also helps you determine the relationship between project elements, like coding and tests, to baseline documents that describe the necessary safety standards of the industry. Here's a list of industries that use an RTM:

Medical

An RTM helps ensure that medical devices and patents are safe and adhere to the standards of the industry. You can benefit from using an RTM in this industry because it helps you verify the quality of devices. An RTM can also help with the evaluation of a medical company's products and device designs.

Related: 13 Highest Paying Jobs in the Medical Field (With Salaries)

Aerospace

In the aerospace industry, it's common to verify code several times to analyze the hardware and software of planes and flight data storage. This is important for those who want to maintain the quality of aerospace products. Professionals like aerospace engineers and designers use an RTM to evaluate specifications, reduce or enlarge mass, increase operating life, redesign components, and reduce or increase production times. The RTM provides a structure for tracking each process to reduce errors, increase productivity, and achieve successful outcomes.

What are the benefits of using an RTM?

Using an RTM can help you identify project requirements and ensure that you meet them throughout the project's lifecycle. An RTM is also beneficial because it improves the accessibility of documents for audits. For example, auditors can analyze the data in RTMs to ensure compliance with industry regulations. This helps reduce audit-related expenses and delays. RTMs help companies review their compliance to regulations on past projects, enabling them to better understand project requirements before beginning new ones.

Companies can use an RTM to determine the amount of time projects require and separate them into individual tasks. This improves efficiency and allows teams to establish reasonable expectations for projects. Here are some of the additional benefits of using an RTM:

  • Easier version management: An RTM allows project managers to identify changes and in project designs and lifespans. This helps them determine how changes might affect the project.

  • Accurate documentation: The matrix identifies missing documentation within systems, which allows professionals to maintain accurate documentation.

  • Defect organization: An RTM can organize defects by their importance, allowing project managers to prioritize the most urgent defects and bug patches first.

  • Problem solving: An RTM can improve problem- solving because it allows teams to review obstacles before they cause errors in a project. Team members can then overcome these obstacles with more ease.

Types of RTMs

Here are three common types of RTMs and their uses:

Forward traceability matrix

This type of matrix helps to track the design and implementation of projects and individual product parts. It helps ensure professionals test and apply all requirements. To do this, you can use the data you obtain for products. These matrices can also map requirements over time to test cases while evaluating the entire project's trajectory.

Backward traceability matrix

Backward traceability matrices test cases against requirements, which helps ensure that the project progresses optimally without overusing resources. A potential flaw of the forward traceability matrix is that sometimes the trajectory tracking may overestimate the progress to stay consistent. A team may subsequently accomplish greater progress over time. Companies that want to remain cost-effective can use backward traceability to help ensure they respect budgets and requirements.

Bi-directional traceability matrix

Bi-directional traceability combines both forward and backward traceability into a single document, relating specific requirements to each test case. This matrix can analyze the impact a change of requirements or defect has on a project through cross-analyzing requirements and test cases. Like forward traceability, it can measure the trajectory of a project.

How to create an RTM

Here's a step-by-step guide to help you develop an RTM:

1. Establish your matrix goals

If you want to build a strong matrix, it's important to understand why your team uses the RTM. Some matrices only document broad aspects of a project instead of evaluating specific measurements of hardware or software. Additionally, it's crucial to evaluate how much of the project the matrix oversees. For example, your matrix may outline one section of a project rather than the entire project.

Related: How to Set Team Goals at Work (With Examples and Tips)

2. Gather the necessary data

A matrix requires appropriate documentation to verify each project element. The documents inform the matrix of what the data it evaluates requires. This includes business documents, functional requirement documents, and technical requirement documents. Testing documentation allows the matrix to evaluate test cases, their results, and any existing bugs that may be in a project's software. With this data, the matrix can track resolved bugs. The matrix can also further evaluate the quality of the project using test cases and results.

3. Create your spreadsheet

After obtaining the necessary data, you can create your RTM on most spreadsheet software. Within the spreadsheet, you can designate a column for each of the following requirements:

  • functional requirements

  • business requirements

  • test cases

  • bugs

  • test results

  • technical requirements

The matrix uses the functional, business, and technical documents to compare data to test cases, test results, and any errors that may occur throughout a project's lifespan. By incorporating all the elements a matrix requires to compare data, it can verify project elements faster than manual verification processes.

4. Record and test data

After creating each column, you can record the test criteria from the business document with an ID number. You can use the functional document and any corresponding functional requirements to connect test case ID numbers to the corresponding specifications. By comparing the data within the various documents with each test case ID number, your matrix can verify if the data is correct. Once you know the data is accurate, you can begin testing each case for functionality, viability, and progress.

5. Update your matrix

After using your matrix to test project data, it's beneficial to update the data continuously so your matrix can verify discrepancies throughout the entire process. When your project progresses, the matrix aims to find potential errors, changes in trajectory, or unverified information throughout the project's lifespan. Updating your matrix also helps with the maintenance of your matrix's activities, making documentation easy to verify.

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