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Peerson holding up a diagram of Why Are Traceability and Test Coverage Important?

This is a guest post by Taryn McMillan

The software development life cycle tells a story. As you move from an initial idea through to the finished product, your team is building a narrative. How you document the changes made during each phase of development has a measurable impact on the quality of your product. 

In this article, we’ll be discussing two important factors to consider when working with development artifacts: traceability and test coverage. Good traceability and test coverage practices ensure that there is a direct line between requirements and effective solutions. This goes a long way towards making sure that your testing efforts run smoothly. 

What is traceability?

Traceability provides business context at every stage in the software development life cycle. It delivers insight 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 good test management system is that tracing can be done both forward and backward. Each time you work on QA, you 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 satisfied a requirement.

Traceability allows you to see why a test was created in the first place. For every solved issue, you can trace it back to a passing test. For every unresolved defect, you can trace it to a non-passing test. In software development, you should be able to trace code and documentation back to its source. Analyzing these dependencies at regular intervals in the development life cycle results in better communication between your team members and an overall better product. 

What is test coverage?

Test coverage refers to the extent that which your test cases or test suites verify the functionality of your application, and ensures that you have developed tests for every part of your application. Analyzing test coverage can help you figure out how much of a piece of software is being covered by a unit test or test suite—and if you are lacking tests for any code or functionality. A test case management system like TestRail helps you visualize your test coverage and identify gaps in your QA process. 

Test coverage is simple to calculate and it can be done at any point in a testing cycle. For a software application, you can find the test coverage by dividing the lines of code covered in your tests by the total number of lines, then converting this to a percentage. 

While this method can give you an estimate of your test coverage, you’ll more often want to visualize testing by the features of your application. Another option is to create an outline of your application’s features and organize them into a hierarchy. From there, a rating can be applied to each feature which serves as a proxy for your confidence that the feature is well tested. A test case organizational tree like the one provided by TestRail is an excellent tool for mapping out your overall coverage.

Alternatively, you can count the number of test cases that cover related requirements, divide by the number of cases that don’t cover any requirements and convert that into a percentage. TestRail’s reporting includes this by default, simplifying the test coverage measurement process and allowing you to design better test cases for your application. 

Now that we’ve reviewed traceability and test coverage, let’s look at why they should be key considerations for your QA team.

The benefits of traceability and test coverage

Meet industry standards or quality targets

Traceability gives you confidence that your test cases have satisfied all requirements. In industries where safety is an issue, traceability is important for complying with regulations or quality guidelines. It also reassures stakeholders that a project is on track to meet specified goals. 

Implementing traceability provides proof and confidence that you’ve verified everything that needs to be tested. In situations where 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 like TestRail, 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.

Maintain compliance

For companies in highly-regulated industries, traceability is required to maintain certain types of certifications of compliance. By implementing traceability, you can clearly 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 if they are discovered. This is especially important when you need to prove the design and adherence to these policies for internal or external auditors.

Manage the scope of your testing

Staying on time and within budget is a big concern for any QA team. Traceability helps you manage the scope of your testing. Using a test management tool, you can track milestones, keep track of to-do items, and adjust deadlines where necessary. You can also highlight which requirements are the most important, making it easier to identify which tests should be prioritized.

With a visual record in hand, you will be better equipped to design effective test cases. You can see whether there’s anything superfluous that’s being tested. For example, features that have been removed from a product no longer need testing. Alternatively, you can choose to extend test coverage if new features are added or the existing tests miss an area of concern. 

Either way, you’ll be maximizing the productivity of your team members by directing their efforts only to where they are needed, keeping costs down, and increasing team efficiency. 

Eliminate bugs and defects

Traceability is an excellent quality control measure. Having a living and breathing record of your QA process means that you can be precise with future test cases. This makes it less likely for bugs or defects to go unnoticed. 

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. By tracing forward to the test case, you can then double-check that the issue has been resolved. The more defects your tests uncover, the more opportunities you have to improve the quality of your product. 

Improve communication within your team

Good communication is a baseline requirement for any test team. Having a solid traceability and test coverage plan in place makes it easier to keep all team members on the same page. It’s important that your testing data is stored in a centralized place. That way, 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
  • And more!

One way to manage testing data is to use a traceability matrix. This is a table or spreadsheet that maps out all of the links between the different dependencies in the QA process. Another solution is to use software such as TestRail to help visualize and store requirements and test cases. Whatever solution you choose, you’ll be giving your team members a bird’s eye view of all of your testing efforts. 

Minimize risk with traceability and test coverage

It should be clear by now how valuable traceability and test coverage are. The bottom line is that traceability and test coverage help minimize risk. If your team is spending months or even years working on a product, you want to make sure that your QA testing process is comprehensive and secure. 

A centralized test management tool like TestRail automatically implements traceability and will streamline your team’s development process. Since TestRail is web-based, you’ll always have a record of your testing efforts at your fingertips. As an added bonus, TestRail integrates with existing issue and defect tracking tools, making it a seamless addition to your test management process. There’s no better time than now to include traceability and test coverage metrics in your QA workflow.

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 on her website tarynmcmillan.com.