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What is a Requirements Traceability Matrix (RTM) and how to create one?

An RTM is a table or chart that identifies and tracks a project's requirements and deliverables. Its simple interface shows at a glance what has been done and what needs to be done.
5 min read

Claire Whelan

Requirements Traceability Matrix - VisibleThread

There’s an art to effective project management. A successful project manager has excellent communication skills. They also have a sure grasp of processes and are data focused. They effectively track the progress of each project and every requirement within a project. A project manager will know when and how to use tools to support their own skills. One such tool is a Requirements Traceability Matrix (RTM). It’s an invaluable, yet simple tool, that helps to navigate the project management process.  

Successful project managers will often be managing more than one project at the same time. In fact, the 2021 Project Management Report found that 59% of project managers regularly manage between two and five projects; 11% oversee six to 10 projects, and 15% manage over 10 projects. With so many elements to consider – from deadlines to deliverables – organization is key.

Of course, every project is different, and some projects will be more complex than others. The main challenge is coordinating all of the requirements. It’s also crucial that you align progress with client expectations and the project deadline. This is where a requirements traceability matrix comes into play.

What is a Requirements Traceability Matrix?

An RTM is a table or chart that identifies and tracks a project’s requirements and deliverables. Its simple interface shows at a glance what has been done and what needs to be done. It visually draws a clear path between these two. The RTM identifies all client requirements and maps out progress from the beginning of the project all the way through to the final product.

An RTM helps to ensure a project’s scope, requirements and deliverables do not extend beyond the initial brief. By creating an RTM at the beginning of each project, your team can lay the foundations for the project’s scope. It also provides a clear picture of each specific requirement and maps out progress on the deliverables.    

Transparency is a key characteristic of a successful project. In a team environment, it’s important that everyone knows who’s doing what and how each task is progressing. This is particularly important if requirements overlap and need to be integrated with each other at a later stage. An RTM provides that visibility. 

How to create a Requirements Traceability Matrix

An RTM should be one of the first tasks of any project. It acts as a guide for the project and sets the scene for the project manager. Here are the four steps to creating your RTM.

Step 1: Outline the goals of the project

What are the objectives of the project? These are based on the client’s expectations, and you will need to clearly define them from the outset.

Step 2: Gather all of the relevant documents

You will need access to key documents, including the Business Requirement Document, Functional Requirement Document, Technical Requirement Document and a Statement of Work. Now you can make a complete RTM with all the relevant information, from client requirements to test cases information. Setting test cases is an important part of software development projects.

Step 3: Create a template for your Requirements Traceability Matrix

Armed with all the relevant information, you will be able to create a template for your RTM. It can contain as few or as many columns as you need. There is no set structure for an RTM. In most cases, it’s simply a table. You can create it in Excel or Word. Once you have a basic template in place you can adjust it where necessary for different projects.

A basic template will include: 

  • Brief description of the requirement: what is it? (a couple of words is enough)
  • Business need: what need is the requirement meeting (a short sentence here is enough)
  • Testing: where the requirement is in the testing phase
  • Bugs: what bugs, if any, have shown up in testing

Step 4: Validate the end product

The RTM will help to trace all the project requirements through the testing process. Using the RTM, you can confirm that all requirements have passed all relevant tests. You will also be able to check if the tests found any defects, and whether you have fixed them. Importantly, you will be able to confirm the product is working properly, and it meets the original business requirements.    

What are the different types of Requirements Traceability Matrix?

There are three different types of RTM. Forward traceability, backward traceability, and bi-directional traceability.

  • Forward traceability: This type of RTM traces the project’s progress in building the right product. It makes sure the product answers the requirement, and you have tested it methodically. It traces requirements to test cases.
  • Backward traceability: This type of RTM makes sure the product meets the original business requirements. The goal here is to eliminate extras such as unnecessary code, design features or tests. It traces test cases to requirements.
  • Bi-directional traceability: This type of RTM traces each requirement forward to how the product works. It also traces backward, to the initial business challenge and ensures the product meets that challenge. This information means project managers can check that they have met all requirements and that each requirement has passed the testing phase. By tracing the thread backwards to the original requirement, you can gain confidence knowing the end product meets client needs.

What are the benefits of a Requirements Traceability Matrix?

A well-organized RTM is an invaluable tool for project managers. With so much information in one place it offers a quick overview of each project. But, as with any tool, it is only as effective as the people who use it. You will need to update an RTM regularly with any new information, including if a feature has passed or failed its first round of testing. If it failed, it’s critical that you have explained the problem clearly. It’s also important to update the RTM to include any changes to the original requirements.

Here are six key benefits of a well-organized, up-to-date RTM:

  1. Provides complete visibility: all team members can see how the project is progressing, how testing is going, where problems have occurred, and how you’ve solved them.
  2. Reduces risk: you can trace the testing of all functionality or features and act quickly if problems arise.
  3. Increases project efficiency: you can quickly identify and deal with duplication of effort, missed milestones or timelines, and bugs.
  4. Validates end product: you have clear proof that you have thoroughly tested each element of the project.
  5. Enhances product quality: traceable progress ensures accountability, which in turn has a positive impact on the end product.
  6. Improves customer satisfaction: consistently high-quality products that meet client expectations lead to happier, more satisfied customers.

What is an example of a Requirements Traceability Matrix?

So, for example, a retailer wants to add e-commerce functionality to their website. This project has multiple requirements — linking products with inventory, allowing product sorting, installing a payment gateway, etc. You should add all this information to the RTM, including the steps towards completion.

  • Brief description of the requirement: link products to stock inventory
  • Business need: live warehouse stock inventory link means accurate product availability information to online customers
  • Testing: Test 001 – connecting with warehouse inventory – complete
  • Bugs: No defects found

You will need to test any technical requirement at different stages in its build. The RTM charts the testing, including the test results and any issues that show up in the testing phase.

As we’ve mentioned before, updating the RTM is crucial. The information in an RTM needs to be the latest data available. This will help to keep everyone informed and will allow for problems or delays to be managed efficiently.