Software Traceability: Keeping Track of Dev and Test Productivity when WFH.

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As WFH becomes the norm for software and QA teams around the world, many are left learning the skill of WFH on the job. Understanding how to manage their deadlines, keep projects moving forward, and staying in-the-know with your team members’ initiatives is no easy task.

Software traceability measures how easily you can trace documentation and code back to its source. Measuring traceability during the software development and testing life cycle can help your organization better understand productivity of engineering and testing teams.

In this article you will learn:

What Is Software Traceability?

Traceability refers to how easily code or documentation can be traced back to its source. Traceability is used both in software development and in testing to improve software quality and consistency. 

What is traceability in software engineering?

Traceability in software engineering is the extent to which you can trace work items across the software development lifecycle (SDLC). It enables teams to track what is currently happening in the cycle and what has already been done. Traceability works by creating dependencies between work items, such as requirements or test cases.

For example, you might link a bug to code changes that eliminate that bug. You can then use the link to verify that the bug was fixed, when, and by whom. You can also use traceability links to understand why changes were made by tracing the change to its initiation.

What is traceability in software testing?

Traceability in software testing works the same as in development. The difference is that it focuses on tracing tests, test cases, and results across the SDLC.

When creating traceability in testing, you link test runs to test cases or to issues that need to be corrected. Likewise, corrected issues are linked back to passing tests. You can also link tests to requirements, highlighting why tests were created or initiated. 

When traceability is applied to testing, teams typically use a traceability matrix (more about this below). A matrix can include:

  • Epics, user stories, or individual requirements
  • Test cases relating to individual components
  • Test runs and test results
  • Found defects or issues 
  • Passing tests related to defects

Learn more about the software testing lifecycle in our guide: An Introduction to Software Testing Life Cycle (STLC): Definition and Phases.

Why You Need Software Traceability

Traceability is not something that just happens. It requires intentional effort to ensure that the causes and results of work are clear. This effort creates several benefits for development teams.

Ensure compliance

Many teams have to implement traceability to meet compliance requirements. For example, if you are creating software for healthcare, government sectors, or financial institutions. In these cases, traceability helps ensure that compliance is met and makes proving compliance simpler.

Reduce defects

A statistically significant relationship has been found between defect rates and traceability. As traceability increases, expected defect rates decrease. This suggests that traceability substantially helps teams to ensure that defects are addressed. It may also help teams better identify defects by improving the implementation of testing. 

Increase speed and efficiency

Traceability has also been found to improve the productivity of developers and the quality of their work. According to one study, developers who implemented traceability completed tasks 24% faster and produced 50% more correct solutions. Together, these improvements can help reduce the technical debt created during software development and make code maintenance easier. 

Learn more about developer productivity in our guide: Boosting Developer Productivity: Metrics, Tips, and Tools.

Characteristics of Quality Traceability

There are multiple ways that teams can implement traceability, from traceability matrices using spreadsheets of standards to third-party solutions. However, traceability is managed, certain characteristics should be included. These characteristics include:

  • Points of origin—requirements and tasks are tied back to their origin, including who proposed requirements and when tasks were implemented. This provides a framework for references and cross-linking.
  • Key associations—dependent requirements and tasks are tied together. Information should include how requirements are related and what impacts changes may have on functionality. 
  • Forward and backward tracing—you should be able to follow tracing in two directions. Tracing from origin should lead to a result and tracing from a result should lead to the origin.
  • Technical specificity—tracing should link to relevant code sections and any related testing. If the reason for the implementation of methods is not clear, this should be included as well through documentation. 
  • Auditability—traceability should prove that all requirements are met and that no additional functionality was added. If requirements are not met, tracing should link to explanations or proof why the requirement isn’t possible. 

What Is the Requirement Traceability Matrix (RTM)?

An RTM is a document that you can use to map requirements and trace requirements to test cases. This document contains all client requirements and traceability. It is typically delivered to the client with the software at the end of the SDLC. This matrix is used to validate that all requirements were met and to ensure that all functionality was adequately tested. 

RTMs help teams ensure that:

  • Goals are met—by giving proof that compliance and user requirement are completed.
  • Tests are complete—by highlighting what tests need to be performed and helping testing teams track the process of tests. RTMs also clarify when or if tests need to be re-run to verify results or account for changes. 
  • Decisions are efficient—helps teams understand the potential impacts of decisions. This can help teams more efficiently plan tasks and implement changes. 

Software Testing Traceability Matrix Types

When creating a matrix for traceability, you can create a forward, backward, or bi-directional matrix. 

  • Forward traceability matrix—maps specific requirements to test cases. Requirements are used to determine what code is impacted and what test case types are used. This type of matrix makes it easier for teams to ensure that a product is moving towards completion and that thorough testing is performed. 
  • Backward traceability matrix—maps test cases with requirements. This type of matrix is useful for ensuring that development and testing stay on the path defined by requirements. It is also useful for confirming that a project’s scope is not increasing and that unnecessary functionality is not being added.
  • Bi-directional traceability matrix—combines information from forward and backward matrices. This type of matrix is useful for ensuring that test cases cover all requirements and that no requirements are skipped. It can also help teams more easily identify the impact of task or requirement changes and evaluate the current status of the project as a whole. 

Software Traceability With Sealights Software Quality Intelligence

Traceability is a crucial part of the testing and development cycle, but it doesn’t have to be a time-consuming manual process. A Software Quality Intelligence solution can provide you with the software traceability insights needed to make data-driven decisions. 

The Sealights Software Quality Intelligence platform analyzes your software, and provides you with detailed traceability of defects to specific builds, teams, or components. This can help you prioritize testing and build efficient testing cycles. With Sealights, you can discover which tests are needed to improve software quality, and which tests are redundant and should not be performed. 

Learn more about SeaLights Release Quality Analysis.