Project requirements have a habit of breeding. A little of this gets added here, a little of that gets slid in over there. Typically it all happens because every member of the project team, from the top down, wants to get as much out of the project as possible. Before you know it, you need a genius like John Nash in A Beautiful Mind to track and relate all the information you’re managing within your projects. Requirements traceability can help.
It sounds so clinical and complicated. “Requirements traceability.” But simply stated, traceability ensures that each business need is tied to an actual requirement, and that each requirement is tied to a deliverable. Is it a lot of work? Yes. Is traceability really worth the effort? Also, yes. And, here’s why: Change.

If managed poorly, change will wreak havoc on even the most talented and experienced development teams. If change is managed skillfully, using tools like traceability, teams are better equipped to assess the impact of changes, track the history, keep everyone in sync and consistently improve the quality of the products they’re building. Every time.

For most organizations, the benefits far outweigh the time required to set-up traceability. With a consistent process, structured templates and the help of a modern requirements management tool, much of the process can be automated and streamlined. Even if you opt to manage it manually, traceability offers several valuable benefits to your organization:

    1. Assess and minimize risks and the overall impact of a change before it’s made
    2. Control change throughout the process and avoid scope creep
    3. Ensure quality standards are met or exceeded to achieve industry compliance
    4. Reduce development costs
    5. Increase productivity by keeping the team in sync and reduce administrative overhead
    6. Complete test coverage and ensure all requirements are properly tested before a release
    7. Greater end-to-end visibility into the process for the entire team and stakeholders
    8. Accelerate innovation and cut product planning and developments cycles in half

Let’s be clear. Simple traceability, between groupings of requirements to test cases for example, can be reasonably managed manually with spreadsheets. That’s a real option. For small teams and simple projects, that’s probably all you need. What’s important is making sure that each requirement stands on its own using the tools and workflow to understand. Again, simplicity is key.

The challenge with a manual process is it can be extremely time consuming and cumbersome if your projects have any level of complexity – meaning you have many requirements, frequent scope changes or if members of your team are remote working from different locations. In these scenarios, a spreadsheet quickly becomes cumbersome. It is hard to keep it up to date and reports need to be custom created. The cost of managing this way can outweigh or even thwart the benefits listed above.

Automation, on the other hand, can provide a huge boost to productivity, saving you valuable time and money. Automation can automatically generate test scenarios for each requirement, and you have in one tool the ability to store and connect the requirements, to the solutions, to the test scenarios. And, of course, automation also minimizes the risks of human error.

The odds of performing good traceability on your project are significantly improved when using a requirements management tool. There are real costs associated with unimplemented or improperly implemented requirements. A good tool gives you a better chance of catching these kinds of errors with good traceability features. So, when considering a tool to manage your requirements, do not overlook the quality of their traceability features.

Take action! No matter which method of traceability you choose — manual or automated — start small, and focus the effort on the areas likely to be of highest benefit. Typically, this is requirement- to-requirement relationships with some level of tracing to test artifacts. Avoid a one-approach-solves-all to projects. Your traceability approach should be a conscious decision for each project.

Robert Williams is founder of goPMO, which offers the healthcare industry a practical implementation approach for project management. After many years as an IT leader in the industry, Robert saw a clear need for greater efficiency in project consideration and execution. Thus goPMO provides both an easy-to-use self-serve project implementation tool and full-service project management consultation. A certified PMP from the Project Management Institute, Williams empowers healthcare organizations and PMO’s to be catalysts for high impact and powerful project delivery.