What Is a Requirements Traceability Matrix? (With Benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 24 October 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.

IT professionals use several types of matrices over the course of a software system's life cycle. Many project teams rely on matrices such as the requirements traceability matrix to reduce costs and ensure that they attain all the project's deliverables. If you work in IT or project management, learning more about what this matrix is for and how to create one can make it easier for your team to achieve its goals. In this article, we define what a requirement traceability matrix is, specify its components, show you how to create one and discuss the benefits of doing so.

What is a requirements traceability matrix?

A requirements traceability matrix, or RTM, is a tool that you can use to keep track of a project's requirements. It's a document, typically in the form of a table, that displays all given requisites for an undertaking. As the project progresses, you can show your results from test cases with this document to validate the completion of each essential component. Because of this, an RTM is a great tool that you can use to show a client that the project's deliverables meet their expectations. The following are the types of RTMs you might use:

  • Forward: Forward traceability RTMs map project requirements to test cases. In doing so, they create a systematic approach to project management with a top-to-bottom testing of each deliverable.

  • Backward: This type of RTM does the opposite of the forward method by mapping test cases to a project's requirements. Because of this, it's a great tool for ensuring the team isn't unnecessarily expanding the scope of the project by adding elements that the requirements don't specify.

  • Bidirectional: Bidirectional traceability facilitates forward and backward mapping. This allows you to fluctuate between the project requirements and the end product and makes this RTM type ideal for a wide range of cases.

Related: What Is Scope in Project Management and Why Is It Important?

What are the components of an RTM?

The following are the main components of an RTM:

  • Requirements: Generally, the requirements that RTM documents feature relate to marketing, product and system specifications. You can add as many conditions as the project necessitates.

  • Testing: You typically list out testing information after the requirements in the table. For example, you might have a column for the test cases you conduct and another for the results they produce.

  • Deviation: In this column, you can record any notes or comments regarding the test cases and their results. You could also make note of any bugs you find in the system.

You may add more columns if project requirements dictate it. For example, you might insert multiple test result columns if you plan on checking each requirement several times to ensure a high level of accuracy. To improve your chart's organisation, you could also consider creating a Category column, so that you can group any requirements by type.

Related: 15 Project Management Skills a Project Manager Should Have

Who can use the RTM?

RTMs are an especially useful tool for businesses with projects that have complex testing processes and detailed requirements, such as organisations that create hardware and software. Below are some other industries outside of the IT sector where RTMs are essential:

  • Medical: Developers of medical equipment can use RTMs to ensure that their products are high quality and suitable for patient use. They may utilise the matrix to trace equipment requirements with their corresponding tests, and interested parties and employers can use them to analyse current designs.

  • Automotive: Since two-way verification is essential for ensuring that a vehicle is safe for use, safety professionals in this field benefit from using bidirectional RTMs.

  • Aerospace: Designers and engineers in this field can use RTMs to evaluate a product's specifications and redesign components.

Related: 10 Interesting Careers in Medical Science You Can Pursue

How to create an RTM

Follow these steps to learn how to create an RTM:

1. Establish the goal of your document

It's beneficial to create an RTM at the beginning of the project cycle since you're going to use it to store and track information that's essential to the project's success. Before you do so, decide what you and your team want to use an RTM for and how in-depth you want it to be. Some project managers use RTMs to document only the key elements of a project, while others might specifically highlight a certain segment.

To establish the goals of your matrix, analyse the details of the project to determine what level of complexity is essential. Being aware of the project's requirements allows you to create an outline of how your RTM might look. You could even consider drafting the matrix with a pen and paper.

2. Gather the necessary data

It's important to understand that matrices require appropriate documentation to verify each crucial aspect. Because of this, it's a good idea to gather any essential information before creating the actual matrix. It's standard practice to prepare separate documents for the business, functional and technical requirements of the project. These documents and the data they provide are also essential for using the RTM to track any issues that may arise during the project's life cycle.

3. Create your RTM

Once you've gathered all the necessary documentation, you may begin creating your RTM. The use of spreadsheet software programs is common for completing this part of the process. Open a new spreadsheet on your program of choice and designate a column for each aspect of the project. Next, add any important data from the technical, business and functional requirement documents you've prepared to the matrix. Ensure that you clearly define the purpose of each aspect and remove any repetition from the chart.

Related: Learn How to Compare Two Columns in Excel (With Steps)

4. Begin testing

Next, record the test criteria for each task from the business requirements document. You can use an ID number to make it easier to keep track of the progress you make. Repeat this step with the functional and technical requirements documents. As you conduct your tests, look out for any gaps in coverage. Using the matrix to compare the present state of the product you're creating with the outcome you hope to achieve can help you identify areas that could benefit from additional attention.

Related: What Is RAID in Project Management? (With Benefits)

5. Update the matrix

Consider performing this step concurrently with the testing phase. If you find any defects throughout the testing process, record and map them in your RTM with the relevant requirements and test scenarios. In addition to creating a log of any activities you perform for reference, frequently updating the matrix provides you with an opportunity to check for any discrepancies. As the project progresses, you may use your RTM to detect errors, changes in trajectory or scope and requirements still needing verification.

The benefits of using an RTM

The following are the key benefits of using an RTM for your project:

Better version management

Version management refers to archiving various types of project information that you can access and default to if necessary. For many projects, it's inevitable that some requirements undergo modifications during the testing and development process. By logging all changes that occur in an RTM, you proactively create the means to restore older versions of a product or software. You could also use this catalogue to revisit a previous project phase.

Easier tracking of missing information

In addition to storing project information in an RTM, having such a matrix provides you with a systematic way of identifying whether any data is missing. Having columns for important elements such as test cases and user stories allows you to quickly notice if there are any aspects of your project that you've not fulfilled. Since you can connect requirements to data via an ID number, the same applies for keeping track of unfulfilled or missing requirements.

Better defect organisation

Project managers who use RTMs can organise defects according to how urgent they are. This is especially useful if they're involved in bigger projects, where there might be several defects to resolve. Being able to order defects according to priority allows you to find solutions for the major issues first and plan ahead for the less urgent issues.

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