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Test Traceability: Why Is It So Important?

Being able to link your tests with corresponding requirements, test runs, and defects can save you a lot of time and effort. How is this possible since maintaining all this data is a large task already? Let us consider a real-time situation. Supposedly, you’ve identified an issue during test execution. In the nascent stages, your product is small enough for you to pinpoint which capability could have caused that issue. Even the trusty excel sheet can handle this. However, as your product grows, multiple development and testing teams will work simultaneously with different versions of the same product or even with different versions of the same feature. Now imagine having to keep track of this entire structure using spreadsheets. It will quickly become an arduous task. This is why having a traceability mechanism in place is necessary right from the start. Let’s take a look at test traceability up close and understand its importance. 

What is traceability in software testing?

Looking at it simply, traceability allows you to maintain a mapping to keep track of requirements, specifications, changes, requests, issues, defects, and versions. In the software testing industry, traceability is used to map requirements with various test cases, defects, and test runs. If you have a clear understanding of this, you can easily track various aspects of the process during the development cycle. 

Traceability is beneficial before, during, and after the development lifecycle as it provides a record of what was done and by whom. Thus, one need not start from scratch. For example, if changes are introduced in a feature that was developed in the past, then the corresponding tests mapped to this feature can be easily identified and updated. This makes the job easier as opposed to having to go through the entire suite of test cases and then determine the affected tests. 


Benefits of test traceability

Quality assurance is a cumulative process that requires all involved teams to ensure that they take the necessary steps to manage this. Test traceability helps you keep a record of your whole QA process. Let’s take a look at the key benefits of having traceability in place. 

Traceability helps give business context to the QA team

When multiple teams work together, there is a high chance that they end up working in silos. The QA team must have the full context of the client’s requirements if they are expected to write test cases for a feature. Else they might come up with test cases that do not cover user-specific scenarios. 

Traceability gives an overview of what has been covered via testing

With a proper test traceability plan, you can analyze and gauge how many features have been tested and what issues have been identified. The analysis can be done quickly by viewing this data instead of finding older test cases, epics, stories, or defects in the system. 

Traceability helps maintain compliance in highly regulated situations where you must prove that you adhere to the guidelines

Having a mapping of requirements with test cases and defects can help check if you have covered all bases when it comes to client requirements, especially the ones that are very sensitive in nature and have very specific compliance requirements. 

Great for bug control

Traceability can act as an excellent quality control measure. Since you are aware of what has already been tested, you can plan the next test cases. This prevents bugs from slipping through. With better documentation provided by test traceability, it is convenient to identify the root of a bug or issue by tracing back to its source. 

Manage testing scope and coverage

With proper mapping, you can devise a good test coverage strategy since there is clarity on what needs to be tested. 

Traceability helps minimize risk during the cycle

When the QA process is captured using test traceability, you are able to leverage this data to see if you missed any section of the product. Also, you can see which areas are at risk when having an overview of the reported issues. 

Improves team communication

Having a central view of the QA process helps all team members be on the same page testing-wise. 


Types of test traceability

There are two main approaches to creating test traceability. Both these approaches lead to the same end goal – giving a better picture of the QA process. However, each has its own benefits and hence is used by different stakeholders based on their needs. 

Forward traceability

This approach focuses on gathering the requirements and mapping the test cases to them. The test runs and identified issues are also mapped to the traceability matrix to develop a holistic picture. This approach comes in handy for the product owner when planning and building backlog items.

Backward traceability

With this approach, you map test cases back to the requirements. The backward traceability approach works well for quality assurance. 


How is it done?

Traceability can be done using matrices or through conversations, stories, strategic themes, logs, journals, source code, automated tests, design documents, daily scrums, email, etc., that help maintain such mappings. Software testing traceability will include the following:

  • Requirements in the form of user stories and epics.
  • Test cases or test suites for those requirements.
  • Test runs along with their result.
  • Issues or defects and whether they have been resolved. 

Though it may take some initial efforts to get the process in place, once set, you can rely on this to navigate the agile development process. You can build on it. For example, if you need to enhance a previously developed and tested feature, you will know exactly what needs to be done and what kind of challenges to expect. All you need to do is refer to your traceability matrix. 


Tips for adopting test traceability in your QA process

Traceability is meant to promote transparency and clarity in the process. Keep this primary goal in mind, and the following points will help you incorporate test traceability in your development cycle. 

  • Identifying stakeholders

First and foremost, you need to know who will be involved in designing, developing, and testing the product. All these teams will determine the traceability process that will exist. 

  • Encouraging collaboration

Collaboration is the key to gaining successful traceability. All stakeholders need to be proactive and involved in doing so. This greatly helps other dependent teams to know where they stand. For example, if the development team does not send a timely update about their bug fixes, then the QA team will not be able to verify the fixes in time.

  • Tracking changes with version control systems

Using version control systems makes it easy for all stakeholders to be on the same page throughout the development cycle. 

  • Linking artifacts to enable traceability

With mapping artifacts to tests, you can ensure that every time a change is introduced, it is tracked and traced properly. 

You can find many tools in the market to help you collaborate with different stakeholders and ensure that traceability is maintained. 

Additionally, you can incorporate test automation tools along with these collaboration tools. Most of them integrate with other third-party tools, thus making it a seamless experience. One such powerful automation tool is testRigor. It integrates with other third-party tools like Jira, Zephyr, Test Rail, Jenkins, Gitlab, and AWS CodePipeline, to name a few, and provides a user-friendly interface to let all stakeholders understand and even participate in test case creation, execution and monitoring. All this is possible due to its use of plain English instead of programming languages to write test scripts. 



We see that test traceability can be carried out in various ways depending on the collaborating teams. You can set a good traceability process using different products available in the market. 


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