How to Create a Traceability Matrix
You need to make sure requirements are met, tests are run, and issues are resolved. And the best way to make sure this happens? Creating a requirements traceability matrix.
You might need to create a traceability matrix to show compliance. In fact, many people’s first experience with traceability is showing it to an auditor.
Or you might want a traceability matrix to stay on track of your releases and make good decisions. A traceability matrix can answer many questions, including:
Am I making progress? Do I have a gap in my development process? What will happen if I change a requirement? Did I mitigate risk in my product development?
If you’re about to make your first foray into traceability, there’s plenty to be excited about. Creating a traceability matrix comes with many benefits. For instance, it can help you prove compliance and accelerate your release cycles.
For many organizations, a traceability matrix is first attempted in Microsoft Excel. Here’s how to do it.
How to Create a Traceability Matrix in Excel
Creating a traceability matrix in Excel is going to take some time and sleuthing. If you’ve already tracked down the details of which artifacts you want to trace, the process will go much more smoothly.
1. Define Your Goal
Your first step when creating a traceability matrix in Excel — or creating a traceability matrix, period — is to define your goals.
What do you want to deliver with the traceability matrix?
Here are some example goals:
I want to create a traceability matrix to prove that I’ve met compliance requirements for my product.
I want to create a traceability matrix to make sure that my requirements have been tested and passed before I ship.
I want to create a traceability matrix so that I know which tests and issues are impacted if a requirement changes.
By setting your goal before you begin, you’ll make sure you’re gathering the right information for your traceability matrix.
2. Gather Your Artifacts
You’ll need to define which artifacts should be included, based on your goal.
At its most basic, a traceability matrix should include:
- Test results
Once you’ve defined your artifacts, you’ll need to gather them. This might mean tracking down the most recent requirements document. Each requirement listed should have a unique requirements ID. And this ID should not change if your requirements are reordered.
You’ll also need to track down your test cases. If testing is in progress or completed, you’ll need to find test statuses. If tests failed, you’ll also need to find any issues that may have been detected.
3. Create a Traceability Matrix Template in Excel
Once you’ve defined and gathered your documents, you’re ready to make your traceability matrix template.
You’ll need to add a column for each of your artifacts. For a basic traceability matrix, your columns will be:
- Column 1: Requirements
- Column 2: Tests
- Column 3: Test Results
- Column 4: Issues
Then, you’ll be ready to start adding your artifacts in the columns you’ve created.
4. Copy and Paste Requirements From Your Requirements Document
Now it’s time to open up your requirements document and start copying and pasting your requirement IDs into your first column of the traceability matrix template.
This may take a while, depending on how many requirements you have.
5. Copy and Paste Test Cases From Your Test Case Document
Next, you’ll enter your test case IDs into the second column. Test cases should be in the same row as the requirements they are tied to.
This may take a while — especially if your test cases aren’t stored in a central spot.
6. Copy and Paste Test Results and Issues (If You Have Them)
A test implies that a requirement was implemented. So, you’ll also need to have the results of your test runs in your traceability matrix, as well as any issues that may have come up.
You might have test run results tracked in a spreadsheet. And you might have issues in Jira. Both of those will need to be copied over to the traceability matrix — and put in the same row as their related test cases and requirements.
You can indicate whether a test run passed or failed by changing the background color of the cell (e.g., green for passed and red for failed).
7. Update the Traceability Matrix — Constantly
It’s one effort to create a traceability matrix. But it’s a full-time job to keep it updated and do it right.
If a requirement changes, you’ll need to update the traceability matrix. Or there might be requirements you decided not to fulfill — and you’ll need a way to indicate that, too. If someone adds a test case, you’ll need to update the matrix. When a test run passes or fails, you’ll need to update it again. If an issue found in testing is resolved, you’ll need to update it yet again.
Remember to keep a close eye on your requirement IDs. Those should stay the same, even if you reorder your requirements list or reuse a requirement.
Sample Traceability Matrix in Excel
Build Your Traceability Skills
You’ve learned how to create a traceability matrix in Excel. Now, learn how to get the most out of traceability — and use it for compliance and risk management.
3 Problems With a Traceability Matrix in Excel
Using a traceability matrix in Excel can work. But it’s going to take significant manual effort to get what you need out of it.
Creating a Traceability Matrix Is Busy Work.
Creating and maintaining a traceability matrix in Excel can become a full-time job.
It’s unlikely that you’ll have a simple list of requirements. You’ll probably have marketing requirements that are decomposed into product requirements, which are decomposed into a user interface (UI) specification, which is decomposed into product architecture.
All of these requirements are important to track. But trying to track them all in Excel will be difficult. You’ll need a column for each type of requirement.
Keeping a Traceability Matrix Up-to-Date Is Expensive.
Your artifacts are bound to change throughout development. Customer feedback may influence the priority of requirements. Development obstacles might put requirements on hold. And every time that happens, someone will have to go back and update Excel.
Some people wait to create a traceability matrix until the end, hoping to avoid extra busy work. But if you do that, you’ll still need to track everything down and copy/paste it into Excel.
And you won’t be able to use a traceability matrix created at the end of a project for anything other than proof. That means you’ll miss out data that could expedite your release process.
So, the costs of maintaining that Excel traceability matrix stack up.
Making a Mistake Is Common.
When you’re manually inputting your requirements, tests, and issues, it’s easy to get something wrong.
If your traceability matrix isn’t accurate, you won’t be able to use it for anything. That means you won’t be able to prove you’ve met compliance requirements. And you won’t be able to use it to make data-driven decisions. In fact, you might end up making the wrong decision based on an inaccuracy — such as a test run that actually failed but was marked as passed.
You can avoid these problems by using a traceability matrix tool, such as Helix ALM.
How to Use Traceability Matrix Tools
Creating a traceability matrix can be easier. And it starts with selecting the right traceability matrix tools.
These tools take the time-consuming work out of creating a traceability matrix. That’s because they can create relationships between work items. This accelerates — and even automates — the process of creating a matrix. You won’t have to copy and paste requirement after requirement and test case after test case.
Helix ALM is one tool that makes it easier to create a traceability matrix. In Helix ALM, all of your artifacts are housed in one spot, so you don’t need to go searching.
1. Define Your Goals
There’s one step that’s the same with Helix ALM and Excel traceability matrices. And that’s defining your goals before you begin.
You need to know what you want to deliver with your traceability matrix, whether it’s:
- Proof of compliance.
- A guarantee that your requirements have been tested.
- Understanding of the impact of change.
2. Establish Your Business Process and Artifacts
You can use Helix ALM to automate the process of creating a traceability matrix. That’s because you can set up your business process once. And then you can use it to instantly create a traceability matrix report every time you need it.
To set up your business process, you’ll need to define:
- Your artifacts (item types).
- The relationships (links) between artifacts.
You’ll configure this within Helix ALM. And then Helix ALM will maintain all of the data you’ll need to mine.
3. Get Your Traceability Matrix Report
You’ll already be working with requirements, test cases, and issues in Helix ALM. So, as you create them, you’ll be automatically linking them to each other. That means when it comes time to create a traceability matrix, your work is practically done.
All you need to do is run the traceability matrix report. The process you set up and configured in the previous step will take care of the manual steps and data gathering for you.
You’ll get a report showing the relationship between requirements, tests, and issues. You’ll be able to customize it by adding or removing columns to meet your needs. But the hard work is done for you.
And, if you have issues in Jira (and Jira is integrated with Helix ALM), the matrix report will show those issues in the issues column.
Sample Traceability Matrix in Helix ALM
Why a Traceability Matrix Tool Is Better Than Excel
Using a traceability matrix tool — such as Helix ALM — is better than using an Excel traceability matrix.
It’s Easy to Create a Traceability Matrix.
Creating a traceability matrix in Helix ALM is easy.
You write requirements. You do your testing. And every step of the way, you add linking underneath tying requirements to tests to issues. The relationships are set up as you go.
That means your testers and developers can stick to their normal day jobs. No one needs to spend hours upon hours updating an Excel traceability matrix.
Your Traceability Matrix Will Be Accurate.
Your team will be working on artifacts right within Helix ALM. So, your traceability matrix will represent your statuses in real-time.
Any time a requirement updates, you can easily rerun a traceability matrix report to get the latest results. You won’t have the added step of going back to update it. And you won’t have the nightmare of trying to track down the status of every last artifact.
You’ll Get More Mileage Out of Your Traceability Matrix.
You can see an up-to-date traceability matrix report any time you want to. That means you can use the traceability matrix to make informed decisions throughout development.
You can use the traceability matrix for your initial goals, such as proving compliance. Validating that the product you’re shipping has met requirements is easy. All you need to do is run a report when your project is complete and you’ll have the proof you need in case of an audit.
But let’s say you want to do risk management. There are different types of relationships you’ll need to understand risk, such as the relationship between risk and requirements. But that’s okay. All of your items are stored in one system, which means you can easily go into risk management — without jumping through extra hoops.
At the end of the day, you’ll have flexibility to use the traceability matrix any way you want it.
Create a Traceability Matrix With Helix ALM
With Helix ALM, leveraging traceability is easy. You can use it to prove compliance, accelerate release cycles, and understand the impact of change. But don’t just take our word for it. Try Helix ALM — and see how easy it can be to create a traceability matrix.
Or learn more with our guide to traceability in product development:
Requirements Traceability Matrix — Everything You Need to Know