What Is Requirement Traceability? (With Benefits and Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 18, 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.

Software engineers and developers need specific project management tools to monitor testing and make sure their solution fulfills all client criteria. One of these technologies is requirement tracing, which may be especially beneficial for large, complex projects. Learning more about requirements tracing can help you better record your work, coordinate with your team, or show that you fulfilled legal requirements. In this article, we answer the question, "What is requirement traceability?", define a requirements traceability matrix, explore its benefits, discuss who uses it, explore its best practices, and review how to trace requirements.

What is requirement traceability?

Knowing the answer to “What is requirement traceability?” can help you track milestones and activities within a project and keep records of this activity. Requirement traceability is a method used in the project management for software development to track requirements and help ensure that all components are of comparable quality and have undergone sufficient testing. A need for a piece of software is a specific way in which the program may operate in response to a client request. It relates to a particular area of code.

For instance, if a client requests a login page, it may reject erroneous passwords and connect the user to the content when they enter the right password. If a component has requirement traceability, a software engineer may track the evolution of a requirement from the initial customer specification, through the written code section, to the tests used to ensure its effectiveness. There are two parts of requirement traceability:

  • Forward trace: This is the process of verifying that requirements correspond to system components and design elements.

  • Backward trace: This is the process of verifying why certain features got included to create an audit trail for later reference.

What is a requirements traceability matrix?

A requirements traceability matrix (RTM) is a mechanism to record the traceability of a requirement. It's a spreadsheet that follows requirements during the development process, gathering data on the requirement, the associated code, the tests performed, and the initial reason to include the need. Depending on its objective, the RTM may express any of the three forms of traceability, forward traceability, backward traceability, or bidirectional traceability, but most frequently, an RTM may record bidirectional traceability.

You might also pick a specific RTM for a specific purpose. A risk management matrix may assist you in illustrating the exact methods you're using to minimize a potential problem. A compliance matrix might be an RTM that you present to meet regulatory criteria if you're producing tools for a business where safety or quality is particularly crucial, like the transportation field.

Related: What Is a Confusion Matrix? (With Definition and Steps)

Benefits of requirements traceability

Here are some of the potential advantages of tracing requirements:

Efficiency

With a requirement tracing technique, you may save time by tracking requirements in a single location, allowing you to access the information whenever you need it. Using a matrix may make this information very visible, allowing you to locate it easily. You may also avoid repeat tests by tracking results in the same document so that all testers are aware of what they're trying to accomplish.

Regulation compliance documentation

If your project is subject to regulation or business policy, tracing the requirements might assist you in achieving compliance. If you have a list of each regulation's criteria, you can remember to include them all. In several sectors, documenting requirement traceability throughout manufacturing and reporting the findings is a legal requirement aimed to verify that items such as automobiles, industrial equipment, and airplanes have well-tested and secure software.

Related: Nine-Box Matrix for Succession Planning (With Tips)

Who can use a requirements traceability matrix?

A requirements traceability matrix can be useful to any company that develops software or hardware. Companies with high safety standards frequently use requirements traceability matrices to help ensure the quality of their products. An RTM in software connects project elements, such as code and tests, to various project life cycle documents. This not only qualifies the project but also helps ensure the products' safety and competitiveness. The same holds true for these industries:

Medical

Besides ensuring that medical devices are safe for use on patients, a requirements traceability matrix also ensures that they meet the stringent quality standards required by the majority of medical device departments. Because of the stringent requirements of the medical industry, an RTM can facilitate the verification of quality products. In addition, a requirements traceability matrix can assist entrepreneurs in evaluating current designs and analyzing the effects of industry-wide change.

Automotive

Because safety standards are a top priority in the transportation industry, double-checking a requirements traceability matrix is an effective tool. If employees can validate software against standards that have existed for decades, products can pass quality checks much more quickly. Numerous matrices of traceability adhere to professional coding standards.

Aerospace

In the aerospace industry, professionals usually double-check the code they use in the hardware of planes and the software for flight data storage. This is essential to adhere to regulations and for quality assurance. Similar to the medical field, the aerospace industry requires traceability matrices to help ensure high safety standards. Aerospace engineers and designers use RTM to analyze requirements, decrease or expand mass, improve operational life, redesign components, and reduce or increase manufacturing timelines as required to finish a project.

An RTM offers a framework for recording each process these experts undertake to decrease mistakes, improve productivity, and achieve effective results.

Requirements traceability best practices

Here are some techniques for maximizing your requirements tracing:

Select the right tool

There are several solutions for requirement traceability matrices, ranging from basic spreadsheets to software that connects with testing and development tools. A manual spreadsheet technique is often only appropriate for projects with a hundred or fewer needs. Complex projects or projects with many legal or business criteria may need a more sophisticated tool. Selecting the appropriate tool might help you avoid instances in which it's necessary to re-enter data.

Use unique identifiers

Ensure that each software requirement and business need has unique identification. For instance, you can use a code of numbers and characters to identify pieces across the RTM. This practice can eliminate ambiguity and make the RTM searchable.

Keep your RTM updated

An RTM is only valuable if it contains relevant and up-to-date information. If your project is extensive, you can explore automated requirement traceability software. By doing this, you can avoid entering information manually several times and make your RTM more effective.

Determine who is responsible for the RTM

If you operate with a big team, make it obvious what each team member is responsible for entering into your RTM, or assign a single person to handle all data input. By doing this, you may know who to ask if you have questions and your RTM may not have redundant information. An automated or more complicated RTM technology may also demand specific expertise to use, so you may assign your RTM tasks to the most competent individuals.

How to trace requirements

Here's one method for effectively tracing requirements using an RTM:

1. Understand goals and choose a format

Determine why you're creating a requirements traceability matrix and what kind you may need. The most popular sort of traceability matrix is a bidirectional matrix, which displays the shape of your project from beginning to conclusion. If you're attempting to determine which code parts correspond to particular criteria, a forward tracing matrix may be necessary. If you're attempting to improve the efficiency of your project, a backward tracing matrix may assist you in determining the skills you require to achieve the original objectives.

2. Decide on categories

Once you've determined what kind of matrix you want to create and why, you may choose the necessary tracking categories. There might usually be a column for required names and unique identifiers in every matrix, but you may additionally include columns for the following:

  • Requirement position within functional design

  • Code components that resolve the design

  • Test procedure for that requirement

  • Test results for that requirement

  • Bugs found in testing that requirement

Related: What Is Functional Testing? (With Types and Steps)

3. Create matrix and update matrix

Create your matrix using a spreadsheet or a tool for tracking criteria. Typically, you may choose your categories at the top and then fill out the remaining fields below. Be consistent when inputting your data, particularly the unique IDs for the requirements, so that you can search for required components quickly and precisely. For your matrix to be helpful when your team works on a project, it's essential that team members refer to reliable information.

Explore more articles