Why Are Traceability and Test Coverage Important

There are two important factors to consider when working with development artifacts: traceability and test coverage. Good traceability and test coverage practices establish a direct line between requirements and effective solutions, ensuring that your testing efforts run smoothly.

What do we mean by “traceability”?

In IT and Software Engineering, traceability usually refers to the ability to track a business requirement across different stages of the development lifecycle like requirement gathering, design, development, testing, and maintenance.

 Requirements traceability ensures that requirements are met and the product is correctly built and tested. Traceability provides business context at every stage in the software development life cycle. It delivers insights into why your application is designed the way it is and provides a means to design test cases that target specific pieces of a software’s functionality. With a traceability solution in place, a QA team has improved insight into the logic behind each test and requirement pairing, while the development and engineering team can more easily isolate issues discovered during testing. 

A key characteristic of a sound test management system is that tracing can be done both forward and backward. Each time you work on QA, you should establish a linear trail from requirement to test case. You can then move bi-directionally on that trail to confirm whether a test run has fully tested a requirement and evaluated that it is satisfied.

 Traceability allows you to see why a test was created in the first place. You can trace every solved issue back to a passing test and every unresolved defect to a non-passing test. In software development, you should always be able to trace code and documentation back to its source to efficiently build on past development efforts and be able to backtrack if necessary. Analyzing these dependencies at regular intervals in the development life cycle results in better communication between your team members and a better product.

 Traceability also helps identify potential coverage gaps and gives your team visibility into the full context around testing throughout the development lifecycle. This can help accelerate the development and testing cycle times and reduce the waste of essential resources like time and effort. Traceability naturally demonstrates whether or not every requirement has an associated test case. A test management tool that can generate traceability reports with real-time test and issue statuses can effectively provide a comprehensive overview of the current health of the development project.

Ultimately, the goal of traceability is to help you plan and manage your testing activities (including defect management) better and monitor the quality of your product.


What is test coverage?

Test coverage refers to the extent to which your test cases or test suites verify the functionality of your application and ensure that you have developed tests for every part of your application. Analysing test coverage can help you determine if you lack tests for any code or functionality. A test case management system lets you visualize your test coverage and identify gaps in your QA process. 

Now that we’ve reviewed traceability and test coverage let’s look at their key benefits.

Key benefits of traceability and test coverage

There are five key benefits to traceability and test coverage.

  1. Meet industry standards or quality targets

Traceability is important for complying with regulations and compliance guidelines in industries where public safety, data protection, or the operation of mission-critical systems is an issue. Implementing traceability provides proof and confidence that you’ve verified everything that needs to be tested. It also gives you a way to demonstrate your team’s process to create and archive test artifacts to monitor quality over time. When multiple versions of a product are being deployed in production simultaneously, it can be hard to understand which test cases are linked to which version and which requirements. 

You can eliminate conflicts with a test management tool, which allows you to manage multiple application versions in parallel and easily link tests to requirements and defects. This ensures that your documentation is cleaner, easier to maintain, and easier to scale up when needed.

  1. Maintain compliance

For companies in highly-regulated industries, traceability is required to maintain certain types of certifications of compliance. By implementing traceability, you can demonstrate the process your company follows to validate the quality of your product before delivering it to customers and what you do to remediate issues when they are discovered. This is especially important when you need to prove the design and adherence to these policies for internal or external auditors.

  1. Manage the scope of your testing

Using a test management tool, you can track milestones, keep track of to-do items, monitor progress, and adjust deadlines when necessary. You can also more easily identify which tests to prioritize by highlighting which test activities are the most important. With a visual record in hand, you will be better equipped to design effective test cases and evaluate potential risks discovered during execution.

With the improved documentation provided by traceability, it’s easier to find the root of a bug or issue by tracing back to its source. You can then double-check that the issue has been resolved by tracing forward to the test case. The more defects your tests uncover, the more opportunities you have to improve the quality of your product.

  1. Improve communication within your team

Having a solid traceability and test coverage plan makes it easier to keep all team members on the same page. If you store your testing data in a centralized place, your team will always have access to important information such as:

  • Requirement IDs and descriptions
  • The status of each test case
  • Any defects identified by the tests
  • Information about the requirement coverage for multiple test cases
  1. Minimise risk with traceability and test coverage

Bottom line: traceability and test coverage minimize risk. Test coverage ensures that you are testing your application thoroughly enough to measure and fully understand areas of potential risk in new features. Traceability helps identify critical areas of functionality in your application and testing status to evaluate whether a feature is ready to be released to production. 

How to create a traceability and test coverage reports in TestRail

TestRail is a test management platform that supports requirement traceability through comprehensive traceability/coverage reports. 

Now, let’s see how we can use reports like Coverage for References, Summary for References, and Comparison for References reports to show the coverage for requirements/user stories. We can also see all bug reports for our test cases at a glance and get a detailed matrix of the relationships between requirements, test cases, and bug reports.

  • Suppose you want to know which references have test cases associated with them and the test cases with or without references. In that case, you should opt for a Coverage for References report (especially during the test planning phase of your project).
  • If your goal is to see additional details like which references and their test cases have defects associated with them, you should create a Summary for References report.
  • If you’re looking for details like how many test cases (associated with/without references) are in Passed, Failed, and other statuses, you should create a Comparison for References report.

A centralized test management tool like TestRail makes it easier to implement traceability across all testing efforts and streamline your team’s development process. It also keeps a complete record of your testing efforts at your fingertips. As a bonus, TestRail integrates with your existing issue and defect tracking tools, making it a seamless addition to your test management process. There’s no better time to start tracking traceability and test coverage metrics as part of your QA workflow!

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About the Author


Taryn McMillan is a Software Developer and Technical Writer. She specializes in C# game and simulation development in Unity. A lifelong learner, Taryn is passionate about building new skills in tech. You can connect with Taryn on Instagram or Twitter via the handle @tarynwritescode or her website at tarynmcmillan.com. Shanu Mandot, calls herself "an observer and a learner." She hails from Rajasthan, India and has a rich experience of 10+ years in software testing. She recently completed her MBA to hone her management skills, manages the online communities at TestRail, and creates user-friendly content. During her free time, Shanu spends most of her time traveling, reading, cooking healthy meals (cons of being a fitness freak), socializing, and sometimes just relaxing at home by sipping her favorite masala chai! She's also keen on learning more about yoga and spirituality and spends her time reading about and practicing it.
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