It's Traceability, Spock - just not as we know it

Change happens on a project – whether we choose to manage it or not. What are you currently doing to minimise it’s negative impacts? A traceability matrix can be the answer.

Manoj Phatak

Manoj Phatak

Introduction

If you change the Product Price on a line item in a Purchase Order, you expect to see the Total Price at the bottom also change, right? That is traceability!

We can achieve the same thing on projects, by mapping business needs, stakeholder benefits, product features, requirements and designs – such that if one of them changes, we can assess the downstream impact.

And since traceability is bi-directional, we can also assess which benefits, features or requirements map back to the business needs, and eliminate those that do not have a strong mapping.

Traceability Matrix

Some people claim that traceability tools are too expensive. Some cannot justify spending time on them. Some claim they are difficult to explain to business sponsors.

For small or medium sized projects, traceability can be managed with a simple spreadsheet. The question is whether we can afford not to put in place the processes, tools and people that manage change.

Change is going to happen anyway. What are you currently doing about it?

Projects need to be managed, whether or not there is a Project Manager on the team. The same is true of Traceability.

Stakeholder Benefits

Describing stakeholder benefits can be a challenge. If we fail to accurately understand what the real benefit is to our customer, it is difficult to know what to implement and whether the customer goal has been met by the end of the project.

I often find that Twitter helps on these occasions.

Can you describe each benefit (in your current project) in less than 140 characters? And get consensus across your stakeholder community?

BeneTweets

Product Features

iphone-features

But what benefits are received by users of having a taller display? Or a longer battery life? Or a better camera?

The stakeholder benefits will depend on who we are talking to. Some users may see great benefit in faster connectivity or a higher-resolution camera, some may not.

It is up to the Business Analyst to ‘measure the value’ to the stakeholders of each feature and map this on a traceability matrix.

Traceability Mapping

The example traceability matrix below maps business needs, benefits and features to the requirements and design for the iPhone.

Traceability Matrix for iPhone

Can you connect the boxes together and thus show how the design maps back to the requirements?

And how requirements map back to features?

And how features map back to benefits? And finally how benefits map back to business needs?

Of course, building a solid traceability matrix cannot be done alone – you will need the help of your stakeholder community. That means business, IT, legal, marketing and son on…

If you would like to see the finished result, please contact me.

Conclusion

Change happens on a project – whether we choose to manage it or not.

What are you currently doing to minimise it’s negative impacts? A traceability matrix can be the answer.

If properly managed, this simple, inexpensive tool can minimise threats and identify the value to our stakeholders of key features, before starting implementation.

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