Illustration of Agile requirements.
April 28, 2022

Agile Requirements and Traceability Basics

Application Lifecycle Management

Agile has become one of the most widespread methodologies used in product development. As experts and expertise have further developed, it’s become clear that Agile is meant to be adaptive. It should be used to make you more productive, not limit your ability to accomplish your goals.

Still, there’s a learning curve — and persistent hesitation — in adopting Agile for teams that require documentation and traceability. Can you create an Agile environment and stay compliant?

Of course. The key is finding the right tool and adjustments to unite forces for a hybrid approach. To do that, you need to consider how to handle requirements and traceability.

Agile Requirements

Traditional requirements gathering and documentation is done to ensure that the final product meets all expectations — which is especially important when compliance is a goal. Failing to provide accurate requirements can result in anything from project delays to project failure.

So the question is how to translate requirements into Agile without losing necessary details.

When you look at the information that a product requirements document (PRD) defines — purpose, features, acceptance criteria, and timeline — it easily translates into Agile as user stories. You just need to rethink the process of creating and updating requirements to fit the Agile model.

Agile Requirements Gathering

In order to create requirements or user stories, you must define a process to collect them. Our blog on requirements gathering explains how to tweak your Waterfall requirements gathering to a more Agile process. But basically, we know that traditional requirements are gathered through:

  • Brainstorming
  • Interviews
  • Review similar systems
  • Observe the environment
  • Talk to support teams

Understanding this flow of information, you can make that process more Agile by gathering requirements through a checklist that looks more like:

  • Detail user stories with links
  • Prioritize
  • Track and communicate
  • Use prototypes
  • Use a requirements management tool

The Agile process is set to obtain the same information. You are just folding the process of detail collection into steps the Agile team understands.

How to Manage Requirements in Agile

In Agile, user stories are shared via sticky notes or an interactive document, whereas a PRD created through a Waterfall process is static.  So if you’re going to use requirements in an Agile way and ultimately incorporate traceability, you really need to use a requirements management or ALM tool that is equipped for hybrid workflows. 

For example, Helix ALM bridges this gap through task boards — interactive, alternate views of folder contents that look and work just like a physical task board. Folder items are displayed as cards in this virtual task board. Cards are organized vertically in columns mapped to your workflow, and horizontally in swim lanes by folder, user, relationship, or requirement document.

You can drag cards between columns to change item status as work progresses, and perform other actions — such as creating new related items, entering hours, and viewing time-tracking information.

Ultimately, you’re able to create a user story that can be a part of your documentation set, while simultaneously appearing in your backlogs and sprints as required. You can also set work in progress (WIP) limits for each column to help identify bottlenecks. So you can see how a tool can take a more robust set of data and configure it to be used in an Agile way.

For best practices on agile requirements management, and to understand how to create an agile requirements template, read the above-mentioned blog Requirements Gathering Templates: Comparing Agile vs. Waterfall Techniques >>

Traceability in Agile

Traceability refers to the ability to track and trace requirements to artifacts, test runs, and anything else in the product lifecycle. Tracing creates transparency and accessibility for every step of development, including who completed what tasks and when.

Requirements traceability is important because it lets you keep track of and record the history of an item — which is often used to comply with regulations and minimize risk. In regulated industries, it is crucial. Traceability helps with a number of important things:

  • Risk mitigation
  • Quality control
  • Ship or release faster
  • Operational efficiency
  • Proving (not just meeting) compliance

To see your traced items, you use a traceability matrix. This is a document that shows the relationship between requirements and other artifacts, proving that requirements have been fulfilled. It typically tracks requirements, tests, test results, and issues.

Image Blog Traceability Matrix Body 2

How Do You Establish Requirements Traceability in Agile?

While you can create a traceability matrix manually, it demands constant attention and updates. So if you want a traceability matrix in Agile, you cannot rely on Excel. It contradicts the entire purpose of the methodology. To get requirements traceability in Agile, you need an automated tool.

In a solution like Helix ALM, you would do your high-level requirements gathering in documents (where each paragraph is a traceable record). From there, create user stories — which can be automatically linked and added to backlog/sprints and to your document set at the same time. Helix ALM will then automatically create a requirements traceability matrix.

In other words, you maintain all of the information you need for compliance in the tool, which will automatically translate relevant information to be used as an Agile workflow, and then link everything together in a trace matrix.

Learn more about transitioning to Agile and maintaining traceability. Download the white paper Transitioning to Agile in a Safety-Critical Environment >>

Create Your Own Requirements Traceability Matrix in Agile

Adapting a new tool is a significant investment. So you really need to be able to see for yourself how it works and whether it does what you need it to do. That’s why we offer a free trial of Helix ALM for 30 days. Test it out — visit a world where user stories and traceability live together. When your trial is up, you can either take the next step or simply stop using it.