March 17, 2022

What Is Traceability?

Application Lifecycle Management

Traceability is likely an important part of your job if your organization produces something that requires you to keep track of requirements, specifications, changes, requests, issues, defects, and versions.

Yet considering how many companies still track requirements manually using spreadsheets, and how many development teams use disparate systems for various aspects of the development process, the importance and benefits of traceability may not be widely understood.

Let’s go over what traceability means, a few examples of traceability, how it is used throughout the various stages of software development, and how to achieve traceability.

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What Is Traceability and Why Is Traceability Important?

Traceability is the ability to trace something as it moves through a process. In product development, it refers to the ability to track and trace requirements to artifacts, test runs, and anything else in the product lifecycle. Traceability is important because it creates transparency at every step of development, including who completed what tasks and when. 

Purpose of Traceability

Why is traceability important? The purpose of traceability is to 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.

But more specifically, some high-level examples of traceability include:

  • Risk mitigation
  • Quality control
  • Ship or release faster
  • Operational efficiency
  • Proving (not just meeting) compliance — in a fraction of the time

Where Is Traceability Used?

Traceability is useful before, during, and after development in a number of industries. It provides a record of what has been done, so you don’t have to start from scratch on a new build, for example. It makes it easier to assess risk and also prevent mistakes during development. And it makes proving compliance a faster, easier process. In some cases, traceability is even mandated by government regulations.

Simply put, traceability enables you to build high-quality products faster and to meet compliance needs. Next, we will review traceability in better detail as it applies to different parts of product development.

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What Is Traceability in Software Engineering?

Traceability in software engineering is the ability to trace work items across the development lifecycle. It’s used to keep track of what’s going on in the development lifecycle — and show what’s happened. Achieving regulatory compliance is a common purpose for traceability in software engineering. And for semiconductor development, you need to establish verification traceability.

Traceability works by linking two or more work items in application development. This link indicates a dependency between the items. Requirements and test cases are often traced.

For example, you might link a hazard to a feature requirement that mitigates that hazard. Once that link is established, you can trace the relationship to verify that requirement was met. The hazard should go away when the requirement has been met.

In this situation, you can use traceability in a few different ways. To verify the hazard was mitigated, you can trace the link forward to the requirement. If you want to know the reason for the requirement, you can trace it back to the hazard.

This traceability could also be extended to test cases and test runs. You’d then be able to trace forward or backward from any item. This is helpful for getting insight into your software lifecycle (for both managerial and regulatory purposes).

Strengthen Your Traceability in Six Steps

Compliance requirements are stricter than ever. Ensure you meet traceability regulations and mitigate risk with the help of our free 6 Exercises to Strengthen Traceability white paper.


Screenshot of a Helix ALM traceability matrix.
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What Is Requirements Traceability?

Requirements traceability is the ability to trace a requirement forwards and backwards in the development lifecycle.

Requirements are traced forward through other development artifacts, including test cases, test runs, and issues. Requirements are traced backward to the source of the requirement, such as a stakeholder or a regulatory compliance mandate.

The purpose of requirements traceability is to verify that requirements are met. It also accelerates development. That’s because it’s easier to get visibility over your requirements.

Traceability is also important for analysis. If a requirement changes, then you can use traceability to determine the impact of change. You’ll see what the requirement is connected to. And you’ll be able to see how changing that requirement will impact related issues or tests.

Many organizations do this by creating a traceability matrix. This establishes an audit trail, which is critical in regulated industries.  

Streamline Your Process for End-to-End Traceability

Our Helix ALM demo shows you how to achieve end-to-end traceability automatically. Learn how to easily configure any workflow. 

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What Is Traceability in Software Testing?

Traceability in software testing is the ability to trace tests forward and backward through the development lifecycle.

Test cases are traced forward to test runs. And test runs are traced forward to issues that need to be fixed (or are traced forward to a passed test case). Test cases and test runs can also be traced backward to requirements.

Traceability in software testing is often done using a traceability matrix.

Such a matrix might include:

  • Requirements, user stories, or epics.
  • Test cases for those requirements/user stories/epics.
  • Test runs (and their results).
  • Issues or defects (and whether they’ve been resolved).

Within the traceability matrix, you’ll be able to see forward and backward traceability of each component.

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How to Achieve Traceability

Traceability isn’t inherently easy. But you can master it with some help. Using a traceability tool will always be the most efficient way to track and trace artifacts. Our tool, Helix ALM, is a great example. We actually offer a free trial if you want to start right away. Otherwise, learn how to create and use a requirements traceability matrix with our guide—no download required. 


Related Reading

Essential Traceability Components for Medical Device Development

Effective Traceability for Embedded Systems Development

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