What is a Requirements Traceability Matrix (RTM)?


Share this Article:

Our content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click links to our partners. Learn more in our Editorial & Advertising Policy.

Keeping track of project requirements and deliverables can be one of the most challenging components of managing a project—and that’s where a requirements traceability matrix can come in handy. Read on to learn more about what a requirements traceability matrix (RTM) is and what makes it a valuable project tool. 

Featured Partners

What is a Requirements Traceability Matrix (RTM)?

A requirements traceability matrix or RTM is a document that provides accountability to project requirements by mapping out the relationship between requirements and project work. 

The RTM proves that predetermined project requirements are met while providing a record of any testing, issues, and completed items. By using an RTM, teams ensure that test cases are aligned with the needs of the project. 

Example of the fields within an RTM
Example of some of the fields you can expect to see within an RTM.

What is Traceability? 

Traceability is the foundational component of an RTM. It refers to the ability to trace or map something, in this case, individual requirements within a larger project lifecycle. Traceability tracks project requirements, their status towards completion, and a record of each test that has been run for each requirement. 

Read more: What is Project Management?

Who Uses an RTM? 

RTMs are almost exclusively used by software developers, product teams, and others with highly complex or regulated project needs. One of the main goals of RTMs is to trace requirement tests, which is a more specific need for teams creating products such as software and hardware. While a more general project does typically track project requirements or deliverables, the purpose of an RTM is more geared toward the needs of a technical team that needs to track and test specific features. 

For example, an RTM for a software development team is expected to include heavy details about software testing, issues, bugs, and features to compare product requirements to the sprint backlog. RTMs also help technical teams meet the needs of external stakeholders and clients while communicating with them that those needs have been recorded and met. 

However, for a less technical project, teams sometimes create a much more simplified list that focuses strictly on tracking each team member’s contributions or deliverables, though it would not be considered an RTM specifically. 

Why are RTMs Important in the Project Lifecycle?

There are numerous benefits that an RTM provides throughout the project lifecycle:

  • Accountability: RTMs help provide accountability to the initial proposal and project terms, making it easier to track requirements and their status against overall project completion.
  • Individual workloads: Because RTMs include information about who requested specific requirements and who is tasked with completing them, it provides additional clarity on individual contributions and workloads.
  • Project progress: Individual requirements, and their status towards completion, are tracked through the RTM, highlighting the status of the project towards competition and estimating the project timeline and likelihood of staying on track.
  • Client reassurance: RTMs create a clear record of client requests, reassuring them that their requests and needs are being met and documented thoroughly. 
  • Simplified troubleshooting: If issues arise throughout the project lifecycle, the RTM provides a baseline of information for teams to use to troubleshoot failed tests or identify any missing features that should be considered. 
  • Compliance: In hyper-regulated industries, RTMs help ensure compliance not only with client and project needs but also with legal guidelines and regulatory requirements. 

Read more: Top Project Management Terms and Concepts

Requirements Traceability Matrix Downloadable Template

Tips for Completing an RTM

Whether you’re just beginning to draft out a template for your team’s project RTM or have begun filling in essential information, here are top tips to follow to get the most out of the RTM:

  1. Ensure clear expectations: Often, the most important work when utilizing an RTM comes before the matrix itself is even set up. Before you record any requirements within the matrix, make sure that the project team and any internal or external stakeholders are in alignment by meeting to discuss expectations and requirements.
  2. Choose your preferred method: Some teams choose to use RTM software to harness the power of a traceability matrix, whereas some teams prefer a spreadsheet style or even an old-school paper format. Consider which route is best for your team before diving in.
  1. Make it your own: While all RTMs need to include a few essential components, you have the option to customize it to fit the needs of your team. Including color coding and labels is more than appropriate to help your team stay organized and make the most out of the matrix. 


When should an RTM be created?

Ideally, an RTM should be created as soon as stakeholders and the project team have had the opportunity to discuss project expectations and product specifications. This usually takes place very early in the project life cycle. Once a draft of the RTM has been created complete with specifications and requirements, it’s a good idea to review it with stakeholders to ensure that all requirements are traced and have translated properly from discussion into the final draft of the matrix. 

What elements should be included in an RTM?

Teams are free to personalize the matrix with additional information based on team or project-specific needs, but at a minimum, the requirements traceability matrix should include a list of requirements, test instances, test results, task assignees, and issues. 

What are the three types of traceability?

Within the RTM model, there are three types of traceability: forward, backward, and bidirectional.

Forward traceability – The ability to identify and outline future actions towards requirement completion, such as tests and modifications.

Backward traceability – Backward traceability works inversely to forward traceability by mapping test cases and project work back to specific requirements, preventing scope creep and ensuring that no unnecessary work is completed. 

Bidirectional traceability – Bidirectional traceability refers to the ability to trace requirements in a hybrid model of both forward and backward traceability, which provides the most complete method of traceability. 

Sign up for our emails and be the first to see helpful how-tos, insider tips & tricks, and a collection of templates & tools. Subscribe Now

Featured Partners

Subscribe to Project Management Insider for best practices, reviews and resources.

Lauren Good Avatar

Get the Newsletter

Subscribe to Project Management Insider for best practices, reviews and resources.