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Seann Hicks

Agile Scientist and Software Developer

Use Cases vs User Stories

Use Cases and User Stories are approaches for capturing and communicating user requirements. Which approach should you choose?

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What is a Use Case

A use case is a scenario that describes how a system or product is intended to be used. It outlines the steps that a user would take to accomplish a specific task or achieve a desired outcome. Use cases help to identify the functional requirements of a system and can be used to test the system to ensure it meets those requirements. They are often used in the early stages of software development to understand the user’s needs and determine the most effective solution. Use cases can also be used to document and communicate the functionality of a system to stakeholders and users. They help to identify potential problems and gaps in the system, as well as provide a clear understanding of how the system should work. Use Cases are part of the Unified Modelling Language (UML) standard.

  • A use case describes the interaction between a user and a system.
  • It typically includes a step-by-step sequence of actions and possible outcomes.
  • It is often presented in a narrative format, with the user referred to as the “actor” and the system referred to as the “system.”
  • A use case is typically used as a tool for capturing and documenting functional requirements for a system.
  • Use cases can be used to identify potential areas of improvement or potential sources of errors in a system.

What is a User Story

A user story is a description of a desired functionality from the perspective of an end user. It is typically used in Agile software development to capture requirements and help guide development efforts. User stories are written in a specific format, such as: “As a [type of user], I want [some goal] so that [some reason].” This format helps to clearly define who the user is, what they want to accomplish, and why they want to do it. User stories are typically small and focused, making them easy to prioritize and work on in short, iterative development cycles. This approach helps teams to quickly and efficiently deliver value to users.

  • User stories focus on the end user’s perspective and needs.
  • They are written in plain, non-technical language that is easily understood by all members of the development team.
  • They are brief and concise, typically written in a few sentences or a short paragraph.
  • They include specific details about the user’s goals and motivations, as well as the desired outcome of the feature being developed.
  • User stories are typically organized and prioritized within the development team’s workflow to guide the development process.

Use Cases vs User Stories

Criteria Use Cases User Stories
Describe software system requirements Yes, requirements and system model and behaviours Yes, User Stories strive to describe only requirements
User Focused Yes, via Actors Yes, story start with the user role “As a”
Describe the solution Yes, Use Case and flows Usually, via the “I want” and the acceptance criteria
Agile friendly Yes, but not independent Yes, when applying I.N.V.E.S.T., 3Cs
Drive to the Why/Need Yes, by describing use goals Yes, via the “So that”
Describes exception scenarios Yes, through Use Case Instances Yes, via acceptance criteria
Drives System modeling Yes No
Describes Project Scope Yes, Use Cases are intended to cover all system behavior up front No, scope is not fixed on Agile projects. User Stories are designed to be added as the product is constructed.
Help manage risk Yes, driving through all use cases helps expose functionality gaps Yes, User stories give a high level of flexibility
Requires modeling software Yes, to draw Use Case Diagrams No. User Stories are intended to be written on recipe cards
Can be tied to business goals Yes Yes, through User Story Maps or Impact Maps

Use Cases vs User Stories Criteria

Let’s dig a bit deeper into some of the criteria used to compare Use Cases and User Stories.

User Focused

Use cases are user focused because they are written from the perspective of the user and focus on the user’s needs and goals. They describe the actions that a user can take in the system, the outcomes of those actions, and the benefits that the user will receive from using the system. This ensures that the system is designed and developed in a way that meets the needs and expectations of the users.

User stories are also written from the perspective of the user, focusing on their needs, wants, and goals. They are written in the form of a narrative that describes the user’s experience with the product or service, and they often include specific details and examples of how the user will interact with the product. This focus on the user allows the development team to better understand the user’s perspective and build a product that meets their needs and expectations.

Describe the Solution

As product owners or business analysts we typically want to exclude solution ideas from requirements in order to keep as many options open to solving a business problem or achieving a business goal. However, sometimes it is useful to understand possible solution ideas from users and customers to gain insight into what they think might satisfy a need.

Use cases describe a solution by providing a detailed description of how a specific system or software will be used to solve a particular problem or achieve a specific goal. They typically include a list of steps or actions that a user will take in order to complete a task or achieve a specific outcome. Additionally, use cases often include information about the user’s goals and motivations, the system’s capabilities and constraints, and the expected results of the solution. This helps stakeholders and developers understand the requirements and constraints of the solution, and helps ensure that the solution is effective and meets the needs of the users.

User stories are a way of describing a solution to a problem or need from the perspective of the user. They often take the form of a narrative, highlighting the specific features and benefits of the solution from the user’s point of view. This helps to define the scope and requirements of the solution, and provides a clear and concise way of communicating the desired outcomes to the development team. User stories are an important tool for eliciting feedback and ensuring that the solution meets the needs of the user.

Agile Friendly

Use cases are agile friendly because they provide a clear and concise description of the user’s needs and goals, allowing for flexibility and adaptability in the development process. Use cases can be easily updated and revised as needed, allowing for quick response to changes in requirements and priorities. Additionally, use cases can help to break down complex systems into manageable chunks, making it easier for agile teams to work on them in an iterative and incremental manner.

User stories are agile friendly because they are brief and focused on the user’s perspective, allowing the development team to quickly understand the user’s needs and priorities. They also encourage collaboration and communication between the development team and the user, as the user is involved in the creation of the user story. Additionally, user stories are prioritized and added to the development backlog, allowing for flexibility and adaptability in the development process. User Stories has been described as a ‘placeholder for a conversation’ and are not expected to contain all the information required to implement them. There is an expectation that team collaboration with the product owner and customers will help drive out the subtle details.

User Needs

Use cases express user needs by detailing the specific actions, steps, and interactions that a user takes in order to accomplish a particular goal or task. These use cases provide a clear and detailed description of what the user wants to achieve, and how the system should respond in order to meet those needs.

By carefully documenting and analyzing user needs through use cases, it becomes easier to identify and prioritize the requirements for the system. This helps to ensure that the system is developed in a way that satisfies the user’s needs and meets their expectations. Furthermore, use cases can also be used to validate and test the system, ensuring that it functions as intended and satisfies the user’s needs. This can involve simulating real-world scenarios and testing the system’s response to different user actions, as well as gathering feedback from users to ensure that the system is meeting their needs and providing a positive user experience.

User stories are a tool used in agile software development to capture and prioritize the needs of the user. They are written in the perspective of the user and detail what the user wants or needs in a specific situation.

User stories typically follow a specific format: “As a [user type], I want [desired action] so that [expected outcome]”. For example, “As a customer, I want to be able to search for products by category so that I can easily find what I’m looking for.”

By expressing user needs in this format, user stories help to prioritize and focus on the user’s perspective, allowing the development team to create a product that meets the user’s needs and expectations. Additionally, user stories can be used to track progress and ensure that the final product satisfies the user’s needs.

Exception Scenarios

Use cases can describe exception scenarios by detailing the steps that are taken when a specific error or unexpected situation occurs. This can include the inputs and actions taken by the system or user, as well as the expected outcome and resolution for the exception scenario. This helps to ensure that the system can handle and respond to these situations in an appropriate and efficient manner.

User stories describe exception scenarios by outlining specific situations that fall outside of the typical user experience and detailing the expected behavior in those cases. This can include things like error messages, alternative paths or actions, and other responses to unexpected events. The goal of describing exception scenarios in user stories is to provide a clear understanding of how the system should handle these situations and ensure that they are accounted for in the design and development process.

Project Risk Management

Use cases help manage project risk by providing a clear and detailed understanding of the requirements and expected outcomes of a project. They outline the specific steps and actions that need to be taken in order to achieve the desired outcome, and provide a basis for identifying potential risks and developing strategies to mitigate them. By defining the roles, responsibilities, and interactions between different stakeholders, use cases also help to clearly communicate project expectations and ensure that all team members are working towards the same goals. This can help to reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings or miscommunications that can lead to project delays or failures. Additionally, use cases provide a valuable tool for tracking progress and identifying potential issues before they become major problems, allowing project managers to take proactive measures to prevent or mitigate risks.

User stories help manage project risk by providing a clear and concise description of the desired functionality and requirements of the project. This allows the project team to identify potential risks and plan accordingly to mitigate them. Additionally, user stories provide a framework for prioritizing and prioritizing tasks, which helps to manage the project timeline and ensure that critical tasks are completed on time. This helps to reduce the likelihood of delays or missed deadlines, which can be a major source of project risk. Overall, user stories provide a structured approach to project planning and management, which helps to reduce uncertainty and minimize risk.

Which is better Use Cases or User Stories

It depends on the context and the goals of the project. User stories focus on the user’s perspective and the value they will receive from the product, while use cases focus on the functionality and the interactions between the user and the system. Both can be useful for capturing requirements and providing direction for development. It may be beneficial to use both user stories and use cases in a project to provide a comprehensive view of the requirements.

Side by side Summary

User Story Use Case
A user story is a brief, informal description of a feature from the perspective of the end user. A use case is a detailed description of a specific interaction between a user and the system, outlining the steps and outcomes of the interaction.
User stories focus on the functionality and benefits of the feature for the user. Use cases focus on the specific steps and interactions involved in achieving a specific goal or outcome.
User stories are often written in the form of “As a [type of user], I want [some goal] so that [some reason].” Use cases are written in a more structured format, typically using numbered steps and specific terminology.
User stories are typically used early in the development process to help prioritize and plan features. Use cases are typically used later in the development process to provide detailed design and testing specifications.
User stories are typically written by the product team and stakeholders. Use cases are typically written by the development team and subject matter experts.

For additional information on User Stories see the following


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