Four Best Practices for Requirements Traceability

Jama Software

If you’re responsible for the requirements traceability of your complex product, do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

Scenario One: You just heard that a critical business requirement needs to change and be accounted for in the upcoming release. You need to know how this change will impact work downstream and how the system specification your engineers are working with will change. Immediately.

Scenario Two: Your QA team just found a critical bug in your most anticipated new feature and you’re two weeks away from launch. Do you ship with the known bug and hope to patch it later, or delay the launch? Will this impact your upcoming audit? You need to know who is working on this feature, who else needs to be notified and weigh in on the decision and know what other aspects of the product may be impacted. Immediately.

These scenarios, and countless others like them, affect engineering teams every day. And as software, embedded systems and external sensors contribute to product complexity (not to mention the complications that arise when you’re trying to unify multiple teams that contribute to a product) there is no chance that manual processes and static documentation can scale to support accurate impact analysis and quick decision-making. Requirements may be recorded, but if they’re not in a system of action, in situations like those above, you cannot effectively manage.

Gartner highlights one of the main reasons why companies struggle to achieve the benefits of traceability:

“The most widely adopted tools for requirements continue to be general document software such as Microsoft Office or Google Docs (40% to 50% of the market) due to cost, availability and familiarity. Yet these often lead to poorly managed requirements, thus eliminating and exceeding any cost benefit the tools themselves have. Requirements end up captured in a variety of documents and spreadsheets supplemented by post-it notes in unmanaged versions with no traceability or reuse. This creates a more costly user acceptance testing cycle, both in the time to execute as well as remediation of issues found late in the process, where they are far more costly to address.”

Read more about the Gartner Market Guide for Software Requirements Definition and Management Solutions.

Software and hardware teams must work together in tight collaboration throughout the development process to define market requirements, functional requirements, test cases and other artifacts that define the scope of what you’re building are related in some fashion, either directly or indirectly. This becomes difficult when the teams use different tools and terminology, and work in different cadences with difference methodologies.

Adopting these four best practices around modern requirements management and requirements traceability will help your team ensure product quality, decrease time-to-market, and achieve regulatory compliance.

Four Best Practices for Requirements Traceability


1. Connect stakeholders and contributors to the requirements they care about to ensure the right people can weigh in on important decisions at the right time.

Traceable relationships are as much about connecting the people as they are about connecting the requirements themselves. Each requirement in the system has members of the team associated with it — analysts, architects, development, verification and quality assurance among them — and stakeholders and customers who care about its status. With connected relationships built into your project you can quickly get interested parties involved in decision making.

2. Automate bi-directional requirements traceability to minimize risk and ensure quality.

Manually updating an old-style traceability matrix is not only cumbersome and time consuming, it leaves open the risk for human error. In the development of safety-critical products like medical devices and airplanes, this risk isn’t acceptable. And it’s difficult to prove to an auditor that you got it right.

Key to managing requirements traceability is the ability to view source requirements and their related items downstream to lower-level requirements and then back to the source, and know the status of those items at each step of the product development process. Because this data may be stored in multiple systems, it’s key to be able to connect tools via open APIs and automatically pull data into a single actionable system with visualized coverage of these trace relationships.

Learn more about the limitations of a document-based requirements management approach, and how to get the most out of your requirements management by downloading our whitepaper.

3. Connect data, conversations, and decisions in a single system in the product development process.

Being able to visualize coverage of trace relationships is imperative. But what happens when you find a gap, or a test is failing? The ability to confer and collaborate with the people connected to the requirement right in the system allows you to capture decisions and actions and keep that information associated with the requirement. Down the road, if you need to revisit decisions, all data is stored and easy to find.

With this information managers can, for example, verify that their requirements are connected to downstream test cases and see what percentage of those tests have passed. In a system of action, every test case has a comment and activity stream accessible to all users. Testers and contributors can capture decisions, answer questions, and resolve issues transparently and responsively.

4. Conduct formal reviews in compliance with internal controls or industry regulations with built-in reporting.

In the case of proving compliance with a set of rules and regulations, you need to show your requirements, their traceable connections to test plans, and verification that all test have passed. Using a requirements management solution that has built-in formal reviews and reporting for auditors makes this process less cumbersome and more reliable.

Teams facing increasing complexity and pressure to comply with industry regulations must be able to search, track, and connect interdependent requirements. Achieving a faster time to market demands that teams collaborate quickly and effectively while they work on traceable requirements.

To learn more about traceability best practices, download our whitepaper, “Better Product Development: 5 Tips for Traceability”

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