What Is Requirement Traceability Matrix and Why Is it Important?

December 21, 2021

If you are a project manager, the words “The requirements weren’t clear” must sound very familiar to you. Inexplicit requirements are one of the significant contributors to an unsuccessful project. Thus, gathering and tracing requirements are vital to align the end product and the client’s expectations.

If you look into a project, it receives multiple requests from internal and external stakeholders. The question is, how can you keep track of these requirements and the ad hoc changes? What is possible to accommodate within the timeline and what is not?

The most feasible and scientific solution to store all the requirements in one place and check their progress is forming a requirement traceability matrix.

The requirement Traceability Matrix, or RTM, is an essential project management tool that provides a methodical way to track and monitor requirements from initiation to delivery.

It’s an important aspect of the project life cycle since it helps organizations ensure that their products and services meet the intended standards.

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This blog explains how to formulate an effective requirements traceability matrix and its importance in successful project delivery.

Beginning with the definition,

1. What is the requirement traceability matrix?

The Requirements Traceability Matrix (RTM) is a tool or a document that helps project managers establish and track the project progress. It helps monitor deliveries by providing a digital thread for each demand from the beginning to the end of the project. This guarantees that the scope and deliverables of the project are in line with the baseline.

Traceability Matrix is used in different phases of the project lifecycle, such as

  • The Requirements Analysis and Specification phase
  • Design Analysis and Specification phase
  • Risk Analysis phase
  • Source Code Analysis, Unit Testing & Integration Testing phase
  • Validation – System Testing, Functional Testing phase

Industries such as Aerospace, Automobiles, Healthcare, Gaming, Information & technology, etc., that develop software, hardware or video games, employ traceability as part of their quality and compliance management systems.

It measures the accuracy of projects with the stakeholders or business’s demands while ensuring that the deliverables are defect-free.

Furthermore, RTM is relevant in traditional (waterfall) and modern (agile) project management methodologies. In the traditional waterfall approach, it helps to trace and verify requirements sequentially. In SCRUM methodology, it is used to record user stories between product and sprint backlog.

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Let’s dive deep into the major components of the matrix;

I. Components of requirement traceability matrix

RTM is created according to the organizational standards and needs, but it generally includes requirement ID, baseline document reference number, bug ID, and test cases. Some of the common elements include;

  • Requirement ID or Requirement Number – Given for each project requirement, listing in a numerical order
  • Requirement Type – Grouping or categorizing the business requirements by function
  • Requirement Description – A brief description of the requirement
  • Unit Test Cases Reference / Identification number
  • Integration Test Cases Reference / Identification number
  • System Test Cases Reference / Identification number
  • User Acceptance Test Cases Reference / Identification number
  • Trace to Test Script – Test scripts should be prepared for the actual testing process.

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After understanding the basics of RTM, let’s know its significance in the project management realm.

2. Importance of requirement traceability matrix in project management

Do you often face challenges in tracing project requirements?

Do you always find delivering stakeholder needs arduous?

Do you prefer using the same approach and technique irrespective of the requirement?

If your answer is a resounding yes! to all the above questions, chances are you are not following an effective approach to document these requirements. Often project managers assess the client requirements only at the initiation stage and do not trace them back during execution. Sometimes, there might also be a chance that the project’s scope can undergo modification at some point. If these aspects are not considered, there will be a misalignment between the deliverable and expectations.

Therefore, the requirement traceability matrix plays a vital role in project management.

The primary purpose of RTM is to keep track of the requirement, its source, trace the shifts, and how the requirement will be delivered throughout the project life cycle.

Since all the project details from the client’s end are already in place, it helps project managers to build an action plan for the pipeline project ahead of the curve. In addition, managers can accurately estimate the resource requirements based on project activities and initiate the requisition process. Accordingly, the resource manager can also identify and assign the best-fit resources for successful project delivery.

During the validation process, the RTM will display different test scenarios’, test execution status for various functionalities. It also helps in the incorporation of the ad hoc change requests or modifications. With all this information at your fingertips, your team will be able to realign their efforts with the new expectations effectively.

In addition, the Requirements Traceability Matrix reduces the risk of defects and missed objectives. It helps project managers to evaluate and identify risks before they become issues.

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Thus, it is clear that leveraging a Requirements Traceability Matrix makes it easier to meet goals and manage projects. Now let’s delve deeper into its few types.

3. Types of traceability test matrix

There are three key types of requirement traceability matrices used in requirements tracing, as mentioned below.

Forward traceability:

This matrix is created at the start of a project to ensure that the product is progressing in the right direction. The term “forward traceability” refers to the mapping of requirements to test cases.

For instance, forward tracing is tracking requirements all the way to the finished product. Each requirement is tracked down to the design that fulfills the request, then the code that implements that design, and lastly, the tests that validate the code, design, and requirement. It ascertains that each requirement is tested thoroughly.

Backward or reverse traceability:

Backward traceability refers to the process of matching test cases to requirements. In basic terms, it enables managers to track out the source of a request. It also makes sure that the present current product is on track. The purpose is to ensure that the project scope does not change as a result of the addition of codes, design components, tests, or other activities not stated in the initial requirements.

For instance, in the F&B industry, a finished product batch is taken and traced back through the process, all the way to the materials/components/ingredients received from suppliers. This helps validate that the end product has met all the intended quality standards.

Bi-directional traceability:

The matrix is termed bi-directional when it tracks the requirement “forward” by looking at the output of the deliverables and “backward” by examining the requirement specified in the project initiation phase. It allows teams to have complete visibility into specifications through building, testing, tracking changes, analyzing defects, and so on.

For instance, this matrix can prove extremely useful while analyzing the impact of a change on initial requirements.

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Now that you know the different types let’s review the steps for creating a requirements traceability matrix successfully.

4. How to create an effective traceability matrix

To create an effective traceability matrix, project managers must keep certain things in mind, starting from defining the project goals and mentioning all the project’s essential aspects. Here are some of the steps you need to follow to create a traceability matrix.

I. Define the goal as per client needs

The first step is to ensure that the project goals are accurately defined. To outline these objectives, managers must first comprehend the client’s expectations and business needs. The next step is to gather all the relevant project information and break down the goals into milestones.

Let’s take an example of a project to understand this better. Supposedly, you got an e-commerce application project for a clothing brand. The initial idea of all e-commerce apps is to provide a seamless buying experience to the users. For that, they want two functions- One is to integrate advanced filters to the product listing, and the second is to ensure different payment gateway features.

You can define these features or goals in the RTM as given below:

BR_1 Product listing:

It should allow users to browse through their different products with filtering features.

BR_2 Payment Module:

Users should be able to make payments for products via Credit / Debit Card or through Reward & Referral Points.

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II. Gather all the required documents

The second step is to gather all of the available requirement documents that will help you build an effective traceability matrix. E.g., Business Requirement Document (BRD), Functional Requirement Document (FSD), Technical Requirement Document (TSD) that is prepared by the QA team, which includes all the test cases/scenarios.

Continuing the same example, the two business requirements in BRD will have more detailed functional requirements:

BR_1 Product listing:

FR_1: Sort by

It should allow users to sort different products based on pricing, popularity, customer ratings, discounts, etc.

FR_2: Filters

It should allow end-users to implement product filtration based on size, color, brand, etc.

BR_2 Payment Module:

FR_3: By Credit Card

It should allow users to make payments by Credit Cards.

FR_4: By Debit Card

It should allow users to make payments by Debit Cards.

FR_5: By Reward/Referral Points

It should allow users to make payments by reward/referral points.

Note: In more complex systems, the traceability matrix may include references to other documents such as user requirements, risk assessments, and so on.

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III. Create a traceability matrix template

Once you have consolidated the necessary information, you may design the template for your matrix. The Requirements Traceability Matrix has no set structure; instead, it may be tailored to the project’s needs & type.

Moreover, RTM can also be built and maintained with the use of an automated tool, Excel spreadsheet, or MS Word table.

Here is a sample template for the above-given example;

A. Test cases or test scenarios for each functional requirement:

Test cases or test scenarios for each functional requirement

B. Requirements Traceability Matrix (RTM) template:

IV. Validate the end result

Now, the final step is to take all the requirements through the testing process. Going by the example mentioned above, the QA team will test all functionality (FR) under business requirements (BR). They’ll ensure that all the features of the e-commerce application such as sort by, filters, and payment methods have been thoroughly tested and are operating seamlessly.

It is clear that the requirements traceability reduces the risk of missing critical aspects of projects while also increasing efficiency. The techniques outlined above will assist you in creating a well-organized RTM that includes all details in place.

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5. Conclusion

The Requirements Traceability Matrix is used to keep track of how the project is progressing at each phase. It also assists project managers in making sure that deliverables meet stakeholder expectations. The information mentioned above is a brief overview of the requirement traceability matrix, its significance, and how to create one.

If implemented accurately, a well-defined RTM can help a project manager avoid scope management-related issues at a later stage. As a result, it effectively helps to improve the project quality and reliability of a final product, minimizing rework and maximizing efficiency.

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