A Guide to Traceability in Testing

Traceability in Testing

Simply put, traceability is the ability to trace something. The methodology is applied in various fields, including healthcare and software development. The one binding element across every industry where traceability is employed is that it is used in conjunction with pre-existing regulations to minimize risk. In some instances, traceability is mandated by government regulations. In every other scenario, the prime goal of traceability is used to give you the history of an item and to help you keep track of it.

Requirements Traceability

Like regular traceability, Requirements Traceability is the ability to keep track of and trace a requirement forward and backwards in any production cycle. Tracing requirements is traditionally done through other development artifacts like test cases issues and test run. Similarly, requirements are traced backwards to the original source of the requirement, be it a stakeholder or the client. Regardless of the direction though, the purpose remains the same: to verify that all the requirements are met. A benefit unfamiliar to most of this process is that it speeds up development too by allowing greater visibility over the requirements so teams work efficiently.

Traceability can also benefit analysis as when requirements change, and they often seldom do, you can use it to highlight the impact of the change. You can correlate requirements with each other and understand how changes can affect tests or bring issues into the process. Most businesses achieve this by constructing a traceability matrix which helps them to establish an audit trail. This is especially true for strictly regulated businesses like healthcare and finance.   

Traceability in Software Testing

This is the ability to trace tests forward and backward in the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC). When tracing forwards, test cases are used to test runs and test runs are traced to any potential issues that need fixing. Similarly, test cases and test runs can be used to trace back to the requirements. Traceability in software testing is often done using a traceability matrix. Such a matrix might include the following:

  • Requirements, user stories, or epics.
  • Test cases for the aforementioned requirements/user stories/epics.
  • Test runs and their results.
  • Issues or defects (and their status on resolution).

Each component’s forward and backward traceability can be seen with the help of a traceability matrix.

The Importance of Traceability in Testing

Monitoring the testing process is essential for software teams, particularly Project Managers and QA team leads. Being able to visualize the process can help them define Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for their team and measure the overall quality of the software or a specific version properly. Having these metrics on hand can help you make informed decisions about the software quality management process.

In complex production processes, having the ability to monitor isn’t just based on tracking task progression. Another important area of interest is the connections between multiple requirements and test cases.

With the help of traceability, we can pinpoint the exact tests that were designed to verify each requirement and whether that execution was successful or not. We can also utilize it to locate any bugs and defects that may have occurred during the execution.

What is a Requirement Traceability Matrix?

A Requirement Traceability Matrix (RTM) is a document that traces and maps the requirements of users with test cases. It contains all the requirements by the client as well as the requirement traceability in a single document, delivered towards the end of the SDLC. The main goal of the RTM is to validate that all requirements are checked through test cases in such a way that no functionality is left unchecked during software testing.

The Importance of a Requirement Traceability Matrix

Requirement Traceability Matrix helps to bridge the requirements, test cases, and defects accurately. All parts of the software are tested by having Requirement Traceability (End to End testing of an application is achieved). The RTM also guarantees good ‘Quality’ of the application as all the features are checked. Quality control is often achieved as software gets tested for unforeseen scenarios with minimal defects and every single Functional and non-functional requirement being satisfied.

Requirement Traceability Matrix helps software applications in getting tested within the stipulated time duration, the scope of the project is well determined and its implementation is achieved as per the customer requirements and wishes and therefore the cost of the project is well controlled. Defect Leakages are also prevented as an entire of the software is tested for its requirements.

Types Of Traceability Matrix

Forward Traceability: Forward Traceability shows the movement of verification from Requirements to the Test cases. It ensures that the project continues as per the desired direction and that every requirement is tested sufficiently.

Backward Traceability: The mapping of test cases with the requirements is done in ‘Backward Traceability’. Its main purpose is to make sure that the present product being developed is on the proper track. It also helps to work out that no extra unspecified functionalities are added and thus the scope of the project is affected.

Bi-Directional Traceability: (Forward + Backward): The hallmark of a successful Traceability matrix has references from test cases to requirements and the other way around (requirements to check cases). This is often mentioned as ‘Bi-Directional’ Traceability. It ensures that each one of the Test cases is often traced to requirements and each and every requirement specified has accurate and valid Test cases for them.

Advantages Of RTM And Test Coverage

  1. The build developed and tested has the specified functionality which meets the ‘Customers’/ ‘Users’ needs and expectations. The customer must get what he wants. To surprise the customer with an application that doesn’t do what it’s expected is bound to be an unsatisfying experience for anyone.
  2. The software developed and delivered to the customer must contain only the functionality that’s needed and expected. Extra features provided within the software application could seem attractive initially until there’s an overhead of your time, money, and energy to develop it. Any extra features can also become a source of errors, which may cause problems for a customer after installation.
  3. Developer’s initial task gets defined clearly as they work first on implementing the wants, which are of high priority, as per the customer requirement. If customer’s high–priority requirements are clearly specified, then those code components are often developed and implemented on first priority. Thus it’s ensured that the probabilities of the end-product being shipped to the customer is as per the topmost requirements and is on schedule.
  4. Testers verify the foremost important functionality implemented by developers. As the verification (Testing) of the priority software component is completed first, it helps to work out when and if the primary versions of the system are able to be released.
  5. Accurate Test plans. Test cases are written and executed which verify that each one of the software requirements is implemented correctly. Test cases mapping these requirements help to make sure that no major errors are missed. It further helps in implementing a top-quality product as per customer expectations.
  6. Just in case there’s a ‘Change Request’ from the client, all of the software components that are suffering from the change request get modified and eventually get gets overlooked. This further enhances evaluating the evaluating, impact a change request does on the software application.
  7. A seemingly simple change request might implicate modifications that require to be done to many parts of the software. It’s better to derive a conclusion on what proportion of effort are going to be required before agreeing to form the change.


Ideally, we’d always want a single source of truth associated with any problems under investigation. This may not always be only applicable in testing, but when specifically based on the grounds of testing, it’s an incredibly vital aspect to consider. 

While it may be fanciful to want traceability to be an inclusive part of QA testing software too, at present, the due diligence relies on testers themselves. The benefits are clear: traceability gives us the leverage to trace the complete path from requirements to defects. This progression will allow us to accurately show the progress of testing in the context of given requirements.