Tallying Up the Answers:
After assessing the three components (customer involvement, criticality and complexity), count the number of “yes” and “no” answers for each model axis. Plotting the results is merely a matter of indicating the number of yes and no answers on each axis. For example, if an appraisal yields:

Customer Involvement:   8 Yes 1 No

Criticality:                       7 Yes 2 No

Complexity:                    5 Yes 4 No

The responses could be shown graphically as:


The Traceability model is premised on the idea that as criticality and complexity increases, the need for communication intensifies. Communication becomes more difficult as customer involvement shifts from intimate to arm’s length. Each component of the model influences the other to some extent. In circumstances where customer involvement is high, there are many different planning and control tools that must be utilized than when involvement is lower. The relationships between each axes will suggest a different implementation of traceability. In a perfect world, the model would be implemented as a continuum with an infinite number of nuanced implementations of traceability. In real life, continuums are difficult to implement. Therefore, for ease of use, I suggest an implementation of model with three basic levels of traceability (the Three Bears Approach); Papa Bear or formal/detailed tracking, Mama Bear or formal with function level tracking and Baby Bear or informal (but disciplined)/anecdote based tracking. The three bears analogy is not meant to be pejorative; heavy, medium and light would work as well.

Interpreting the axes:
Assemble the axes you have plotted with the zero intercept at the center (see example below).


As noted earlier, I suggest three levels of traceability, ranging from agile to formal. In general if the accumulated “No” answers exceed three (on any axis); an agile approach is not appropriate. An accumulated of 7, 8 or 9 strongly suggests as formal an approach as possible should be used. Note there are certain “NO” answers that are more equal than others. For example, in the Customer Involvement Category, if ‘Agile Methods Used’ is no . . . it probably makes sense to raise the level of formality immediately. A future refinement of the model will create a hierarchy of questions and to vary the impact of the responses based on that hierarchy. All components of the model are notional rather than carved in stone – implementing the model in specific environments will require tailoring. Apply the model through the filter of your experience. Organizational culture and experience will be most important on the cusps (3-4 and 6-7 yes answer ranges).

Informal – Anecdote Based Tracing

Component Scores: No axis with more than three “No” answers.

Traceability will be accomplished through combination of stories, test cases and later test results coupled with the tight interplay between customer and developers found in agile methods. This will ensure what was planned (and not unplanned) is implemented and what was implemented was what was planned.

Moderately Formal – Function Based Tracking

Component Scores: No axis with more than six “No” answers.

The moderately formal implementation of traceability links requirements to functions (each organization needs to define the precise unit – tracing use cases can be very effective when a detailed level control is not indicated), tests cases (development and user acceptance). This type of linkage is typically accomplished using matrices and numbering, requirements tools or some combination of the two.

Formal – Detailed Traceability

Component Scores: One or more axis with more than six “No” answers.

The most formal version of traceability links individual requirements (detailed, granular requirements) through design components, code and test cases, and results. This level of traceability provides the highest level of control and oversight. This type of traceability can be accomplished using paper and pencil for small projects; however for projects of any size, tools are required.

Caveats – As with all models, the proposed traceability model is a simplification of the real world. Therefore customization is expected. Three distinct levels of traceability may be too many for some organizations or too few for others. One implemented version of the model swings between an agile approach (primarily for WEB based projects where SCRUM is being practiced) and the moderately formal model for other types of projects.   For the example organization, adding additional layers has been difficult to implement without support to ensure high degrees of consistency. We found that leveraging project level tailoring for specific nuances has been the most practical means for dealing with “one off” issues.

In practice, teams have reported major benefits to using the model.

The first benefit is that using the model ensures an honest discussion of risks, complexity and customer involvement early in the life of the project. The model works best when all project team members (within reason) participate in the discussion and assessment of the model. Facilitation is sometimes required to ensure that discussion paralysis does not occur. One organization I work with has used this mechanism as a team building exercise.

The second benefit is that the model allows project managers, coaches and team members to define the expectations for the processes to be used for traceability in a transparent/collaborative manner. The framework presented allows all parties to understand what is driving where on the formality continuum your implementation of scalability will fall – HUH?. It should be noted that once the scalability topic is broached for traceability, it is difficult to contain the discussion to just this topic. I applaud those who embrace the discussion and would suggest that all project process need to be scalable based on a disciplined and participative process that can be applied early in a project.


Extreme examples are easy to apply without leveraging a model, a questionnaire, or graph. An extreme example would be a critical system where defects could be life threatening – such as a project to build an air traffic control system. The attributes of this type of project would include extremely high levels of complexity, a large system, many groups of customers, each with differing needs, and probably a hard deadline with large penalties for missing the date and any misses on anticipated functionality. The model recommends that a detailed requirement for traceability is a component on the path of success. A similar example could be constructed for the model agile project in which intimate customer involvement can substitute for detailed traceability.

A more illustrative example would be for projects that inhabit gray areas. The following example employs the model to suggest a traceability approach.

An organization (The Org) was engaged a firm (WEB.CO) after evaluating a series of competitive bids to build a new ecommerce web site. The RFP required the use of several WEB 2.0 community and ecommerce functions. The customer that engaged WEB.CO felt they had defined the high level requirements in the RFP. WEB.CO uses some agile techniques on all projects in which they are engaged. The techniques include defining user stories, two weeks sprints, and a coach to support the team, co-located teams and daily builds. The RFP and negotiations indicated that the customer would not be on-site and at times would have constraints on their ability to participate in the project. These early pronouncements on involvement were deemed to non-negotiable. The contract included performance penalties that WEB.CO wished to avoid. The site was considered critical to the customer’s business. Delivery of the site was timed to be in conjunction with the initial introduction of the business. Let’s consider how we would apply the questionnaire in this case.

Question Number Involvement Complexity Criticality
1 Yes Yes No
2 No Yes No
3 No Yes Unknown
(need to know)
4 Yes Yes Yes
5 Yes
Yes Yes
6 Yes Yes No
7 Yes Yes No
8 Yes Yes No
9 Yes Yes Yes


Graphically the results look like:


Running the numbers on the individual radar plot axes highlights the high degree of perceived criticality for this project. The model recommends the moderate level of traceability documentation. As a final note, if this were a project I was involved on, I would keep an eye on the weakness in the involvement category. Knowing that there are weaknesses in the customer involvement category will make sure you do not rationalize away the criticality score.