What is traceability?
May 2, 2018

What Is Traceability?

Traceability
Application Lifecycle Management

Traceability is important in software development. But, what exactly is traceability?

What Is Traceability?

Traceability is the ability to trace something. It is applicable in different fields, including software development and healthcare. Across industries, traceability is used to comply with regulations and minimize risk.

In some cases, traceability is mandated by government regulations. In most cases, traceability is used to give you the history of an item and to help you keep track of an item.

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.

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).

Need help with traceability? Get “6 Exercises to Strengthen Traceability” >
 

What Is Requirements Traceability?

Requirements traceability is the ability to trace a requirement 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 requirements traceability matrix. This establishes an audit trail, which is critical in regulated industries.  

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.

A traceability 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.

How to Use Traceability

Traceability isn’t inherently easy. But you can master it with some help. Take the next step and learn how to use traceability in your development process. 

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