What Is Traceability?

It’s a long journey from the initial requirements to final deliverables, and there are many things that can go wrong along the way. To ensure that deliverables maintain alignment with business requirements, project managers should identify, track, and trace requirements from its origins, through its development and specification, to its subsequent deployment and use, leveraging the power of a Requirements Traceability Matrix (RTM) and Requirements Management (RM) software.

Traceability Explained

Simply put, traceability is the ability to trace something. Across industries, including healthcare, manufacturing, supply chain, and software development, traceability ensures that final deliverables don’t stray too far away from original requirements.

The term itself is a blend of two words—trace and ability—and it underpins three critical business management processes: quality management (which enables organizations to hit quality targets/meet customer expectations), change management (which tracks changes to product during development), and risk management (which tracks and verifies vulnerabilities to product integrity).

Traceability is now more important than ever due to various government regulations and the increased pressure on organizations across industries to improve product quality and adhere to strict safety and security standards.

Traceability provides several important benefits that make it well worth the extra effort. By providing a complete, trustworthy record of all past activity, it helps investigate and troubleshoot issues during events such as recalls, allowing stakeholders to locate the source of the problem. The data generated by traceability can be used to improve critical business processes and address performance issues related to lead times, transportation costs, and inventory management, among other things.

Requirement Traceability

When most people say “traceability,” what they actually mean is requirement traceability, which is defined as the ability to describe and follow the life of a requirement in both a forward and backward direction in the development lifecycle, from its origins to deployment and beyond.

The purpose of requirement traceability is to provide visibility over requirements and make it possible to easily verify that requirements are met. Requirement traceability also helps analyze the impact of changes by revealing how a change made to one requirement impacts other requirements.

Requirements can be tracked either manually or using various requirement tracking software tools. Requirement tracking software tools make the process far less cumbersome and error-prone, and they come with a number of extra features to provide a systematic way of documenting, analyzing, and prioritizing requirements.

Standards that Requires Traceability

With traceability come many important benefits that make it a worthwhile activity, but there are also multiple standards that prescribe it for specific industries or types of products.

For example, the DO-178B guideline deals with the safety of safety-critical software used in certain airborne systems. It assures the development of safe and reliable software for airborne environments by concentrating on objectives for software life cycle processes and examining the effects of a failure condition in the system. DO-178B states that it should be possible to trace back to the origin of each requirement, which is why every change made to the requirement should be documented in order to achieve traceability. The same goes for DO-254, which is similar to DO-178B, except that it’s used for hardware instead of software.

Other standards that require traceability include ISO 26262, which is an international standard for functional safety of electrical and/or electronic systems in production automobiles defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 2011, and IEC61508, an international standard published by the International Electrotechnical Commission consisting of methods on how to apply, design, deploy and maintain automatic protection systems, called safety-related systems.

Traceability Matrix

Traceability matrix is a very effective way of ensuring full requirements traceability. Traceability matrix establishes an audit trail by mapping artifacts of one type (such as requirements) depicted in columns to artifacts of another type (such as source code) depicted in rows, which results in a table-like representation of the traces between artifacts.

The image below shows an example of a traceability matrix generated by Visure Requirements.

A traceability matrix is a useful visual aid that makes a large amount of information visible at a glance, highlighting possible issues so they can be solved a long time before they have a chance to turn into big problems.

While easy to explain, traceability matrices can quickly become very complex and difficult to manage. For this reason, project managers seldom create them manually. Instead, they rely on requirements management tools to track changes to requirements during production, through ideation, to completion.

A well-designed traceability associates each requirement with the appropriate business objectives, making the evaluation of potential changes quick and easy, reduces project risk, promotes consistency between requirements, allows monitoring and control across the lifecycle of requirements, and more.

Ensuring Good Traceability with Visure

Visure Requirements is a feature-packed Requirements Management (RM) software tool designed to provide requirements traceability from the origins of requirements, through their development and specification, to the subsequent deployment and use of the product, and through periods of ongoing refinement and iteration in any of these phases.

Managing all requirement related information, their relationships, and their interactions with the users, Visure Requirements provides complete requirements traceability in one single tool, providing integral support to the complete requirement management process.

While the need for requirements traceability is universal, there is an infinite number of ways how to approach it because no two organizations are exactly alike. Visure Requirements is fully customizable and allows organizations to customize it according to their needs and preferences, including making changes to the available menus, toolbars, columns, buttons, and other components.

Visure Requirements can automatically generate a requirements traceability matrix, as well as other reports and dashboards, to display traceability between different levels of requirements, such as product, system, component requirements and design, and more.


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