What Is A Requirements Traceability Matrix? Requirements Traceability Matrix In A Nutshell

A requirements traceability matrix (RTM) is a vital part of the lifecycle of any embedded system, helping organizations ensure their products are safe and meet intended standards. While the matrix has long been associated with medicine, technology, and engineering, the approach works well for any project regardless of industry. A requirements traceability matrix is a tool used to identify and maintain the status of project requirements and deliverables.

Understanding a requirements traceability matrix

Organizations use the RTM matrix to ensure project scope, requirements, and deliverables remain true to the established baseline. In most cases, this means documenting the links between the user requirements proposed by the client to the system being built. Each requirement is traced with a test case to ensure an adequate level of testing is accomplished. 

The process of reviewing the test cases for each requirement is called traceability. This process in turn enables the organization to determine which requirements caused the most number of defects during a testing cycle. While this highlights areas for improvement, it also helps address process weaknesses and future roadblocks. What’s more, RTMs are used to counter the growing complexity seen in product development.

How to create a requirements traceability matrix

The needs of every business will be different, but most RTMs will have the following column headings for each requirement:

  1. Requirement ID – a unique identifier given to each requirement so it can be easily traced over the project lifecycle. 
  2. Category – where the requirement is classified into a broad category such as functional, non-functional, security, performance, usability, and so forth.
  3. Priority – teams can use a low-medium-high scale or use mandatory, should have, and nice to have. 
  4. Source – the name of the stakeholder who identified the requirement.
  5. Business objective – or the objective the requirement will help the business meet. This typically comes from the project charter or business case.
  6. Deliverables – here, list the deliverables that comprise the requirement. 
  7. Verification – how will each requirement be tested satisfactorily? In software development, verification may depend on 99.9% uptime. 
  8. Validation – detailing how the requirement will be validated or tested. This is usually via user acceptance tests, achieving milestones, or meeting KPIs.

Most RTMs can be created in an Excel spreadsheet. However, businesses can also use requirements management tools such as Visure Requirements, Modern Requirements4DevOps, and ReQtest.

Various types of requirements traceability matrices

There are three different types of RTMs according to the traceability strategy used:

  1. Forward traceability – these matrices map the requirements to the test cases and ensure the project progresses in the desired direction via thorough testing. 
  2. Backward traceability – in contrast, these matrices map the test cases to the user requirements. This helps the project team avoid scope creep.
  3. Bidirectional traceability – essentially, a combination of forward and backward traceability. The most robust RTMs incorporate bidirectional traceability because it establishes a relationship between two artifacts that can be traced from one to the next and back again. Ideally, the business should also be able to trace back from requirements to business goals to answer why the requirement exists in the first instance.

Key takeaways:

  • A requirements traceability matrix is a tool used to identify and maintain the status of project requirements and deliverables. Organizations use the RTM matrix to ensure project scope, requirements, and deliverables remain true to an established baseline.
  • A requirements traceability matrix can be created by using a spreadsheet or dedicated requirements management software. Each requirement should have information pertaining to a unique identifier, category, priority, source, business objective, deliverables, verification, and validation.
  • There are three types of requirements traceability matrix depending on the traceability approach used: forward, backward, and bidirectional. Most businesses prefer bidirectional RTMs because they are more robust.

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Gennaro Cuofano

Gennaro is the creator of FourWeekMBA which reached over a million business students, executives, and aspiring entrepreneurs in 2020 alone | He is also Head of Business Development for a high-tech startup, which he helped grow at double-digit rate | Gennaro earned an International MBA with emphasis on Corporate Finance and Business Strategy | Visit The FourWeekMBA BizSchool | Or Get The FourWeekMBA Flagship Book "100+ Business Models"