Best Practices

How to Perform Better Impact Analysis on Upstream and Downstream Relationships

Impact AnalysisImpact analysis is the assessment of the implications of changes, in the specific context of product development. It is integral to requirements management, as it offers insights into dependencies and gaps in coverage, which help inform decisions about the product’s lifecycle.

Let’s say an organization is developing a medical device and must change some of its requirements along the way – something that happens all the time. By conducting an impact analysis of this requirement and its dependencies, the product development team could accomplish all of the following:

  • Determine the ripple effects of the change: How will it affect higher-level requirements upstream and links downstream? Are there are any conflicts to resolve? Proper impact analysis answers these questions and in turn reduces the risk of unexpected consequences requiring costly remediation later on in the lifecycle.
  • Connect people, not just requirements: The impact analysis process should go beyond flagging at-risk upstream and downstream items. It should also reveal who is affected by changes, plus notify those team members about the necessary next steps. This is where live traceability and real-time collaboration in one platform really matter.
  • Assess what is required going forward: Impact analysis is ultimately about gaining visibility into the future – almost like a crystal ball – and acting accordingly. In addition to showing potential risks to existing requirements, it can also identify new requirements and test cases that may be needed for keeping the project on track.

Teams may perform impact analysis using multiple tools. A dedicated requirements management platform, with integrated risk management and end-to-end traceability, is ideal for fully mapping out the effects of changes and identifying subsequent action items, along with the personnel responsible for them.  When manual tools are used, data gets kept in silos which can create misalignment, poor visibility, and difficulty to assess the impact of change.

Replacing those manual workflows, which often revolve around software like Microsoft Word and Excel, is crucial for optimizing impact analysis. That’s because informed analysis requires accurate traceability, something made much easier with a proactive and automated platform that serves as a single source of truth at every stage of product development. In this way, requirements management software addresses the biggest roadblocks to effective impact analysis.

Overcoming the Obstacles en Route to Better Impact Analysis

From the rapid pace of innovation in industries like medical device development and automotive manufacturing, to the need to coordinate increasingly distributed and remote engineering teams, there is no shortage of possible challenges when building a complex, modern product. When it comes to impact analysis in particular, the three primary issues include:

1. Manual Traceability

Impact analysis isn’t possible without effective traceability. But with so many evolving requirements to keep track of, accurately tracing everything can be difficult without truly scalable and automated tools.

To see why, consider a hypothetical case in which a critical requirement needs an immediate change. The time constraints mean all upstream and downstream effects must be quickly accounted for, with requirements and other artifacts (like test cases) properly traced forward and/or backward as needed.

But doing so is difficult when working with nothing more than a traditional traceability matrix  housed in Excel or Word. The amount of manual work required could result in something being missed due to human error and a lack of comprehensive traceability within the matrix itself. The team might not realize they’ve overlooked missing coverage until it’s too late.

Solution: Live traceability provides straightforward navigation of upstream and downstream relationships, along with automatic identification of risky links. It also updates items in real time so that team members are always looking at the most accurate assessment of test coverage.

2. Inefficient Modes of Collaboration

Email-oriented collaboration only compounds the above problem. When lengthy, complex documents – which might not even be up to date – are emailed between teams, confusion, and delay are almost inevitable.

Simply staying current with any changes to project requirements can mean searching through your crowded inbox and trying to reconcile various attachments. Is “RequirementsDoc_v2FINAL” really the final version, or is there something more recent circulating under a different name?

In order to effectively conduct impact analysis, everyone tied to the requirements needs to be notified in real-time when changes are made and provide their input. Centralizing this information creates a more systematic way for change management and enables accountability within the organization on how decisions are made past and present.

Solution: Instead of email, use a real-time platform with instant notifications and the ability to pull in internal and external collaborators as needed. On such a platform, everyone is looking at the same data, which helps expedite review and approvals.

3. Rework and Opportunity Costs

Impact analysis is supposed to reduce risk by letting you see how specific changes will play out and empowering you to take any corrective action as early as possible. But when impact analysis is built upon manual processes and limited traceability, it can do the opposite and actually make projects riskier.

For example, extensive rework may be required to ensure that all requirements are met. This work represents a major opportunity cost, as the time sunk into correcting process-related problems could have gone into more strategic initiatives.

However, teams can avoid getting bogged down in rework by upgrading their impact analysis and traceability tools. Leaving static documents behind for an automated platform with real-time collaboration built-in is both reliable and helps to ensure product quality.

Solution: Invest in a platform that enables proactive, rather than reactive, requirements management. Features like live traceability that connect requirements to tests make it easier to handle changes as they happen and avoid costlier actions later on.

Fueling the Engine for Superior Impact Analysis

A modern requirements management platform enables streamlined impact analysis while bringing teams closer together to work in real-time, even if they’re physically distributed. As a result, analyzing upstream and downstream relationships becomes more practical, as does the overall development of high-quality products within budget and on time.

More specifically, the right solution will be an engine for better impact analysis, propelling key advantages throughout product development, including:

  • Automatic identification of suspect links: If a requirement is modified, the platform will automatically flag its downstream links as “suspect” so that team members can review them before proceeding with development.
  • Easier relationship navigation: Users can efficiently navigate upstream and downstream relationships. A visual schematic lets team members save time in finding missing coverage and make sure that they’re not overlooking anything.
  • Enhanced collaboration: Team members get notified about relevant changes and can be pulled in right away to respond, on a shared platform offering a single source of truth. This real-time setup is much more efficient than relying on email alone.

Want to learn more about how Jama Connect can improve your impact analysis? Set up a free trial today to get started.