By Amber Knight, Program/Project Manager and Analyst
Typically, requirements gathering is conducted at the beginning of a project and can take up a large portion of the project timeline. The documented requirements are used as specifications to build the solution being delivered (deliverables), often in the form of a solution design document or similar. Once the solution has been built, it will be validated/tested. Hence, it is vital that requirements are correct and provide the appropriate level of detail for the best initial build of the solution. Issues found during testing typically require rework and subsequent retesting/validation which can impact both the project timeline and budget.
At a high level, a requirements traceability matrix (RTM) is a list of all project requirements and links them to test cases, which can provide value in numerous ways. Here are some of the benefits of using an RTM:
Running the right tests - Requirement traceability helps your test and quality assurance teams understand what needs to be tested, as well as how it should be tested. An RTM ensures all deliverables are tested by mapping each test case back to its corresponding requirement. Additionally, opportunities to streamline the test/validation process are easily identified with an RTM.
Compliance validation - Compliance regulations can be complex. Using an RTM can simplify the capturing and tracking of regulatory requirements. Using an RTM in this way may also be referred to as a “compliance matrix.”
Acceptance criteria - One of the key aspects of acceptance criteria is having requirements that have satisfied testing/validation.
Scope and change management - An RTM can be used to identify gaps in specifications that were documented during the requirements gathering process. It can also be used in later project phases as part of the impact analysis of changes in scope or requirements.
All project artifacts, including the RTM, should be accessible and easy to understand, regardless of expertise. Using simple and straightforward language reduces confusion. After the team feels the requirements have been thoroughly documented, they should be reviewed by applicable stakeholders as part of the requirements validation process. Requirements should be formally approved.
A project repository with updated version-controlled artifacts is highly recommended. Any concerns regarding sensitive information that is not meant for the entire team can usually be handled easily via user access privileges. Additionally, the repository should be organized in a way that is conducive to locating documentation. This can go a long way in reducing the frustration of all parties.
Requirements are critical to the success of any project as they set the stage for what is delivered and accepted. Assumptions can lead to a project's failure by causing it to go off course and requiring many iterations of rework. By using tools such as an RTM, project teams that have a clear understanding of the requirements are more likely to succeed in delivering successful projects. This is a win-win for everyone—especially the customer.
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