Use Cases vs.User Stories

Most of us have worked with Use Cases since they were introduced by Ivar Jacobson in the early 90’s and which became a core part of RUP (Rational Unified Process). These days, on Agile Projects, we work with User Stories rather than Use Cases.

Use Cases differ from User Stories in several ways:
• Use Cases are much more detailed and elaborate than a User Story.
• Use Cases are intended to be a ”contract” between the business users and Developers, unlike the User Story which is a placeholder for a conversation where details are discussed. All details are usually added to the Use Case.
•Use Cases are prone to becoming unwieldy with screenshots and business rules sometimes added to them. This requires a lot of upfront decision making , unlike the User Story where some of the decisions may be postponed till later.
•Some practitioners suggest that the User Story plus the acceptance criteria actually form a Use Case (James Grenning on
•Use Cases are intended to be lasting artifacts that provide traceability – unlike the more ephemeral User Stories.

Does this mean that the Use Case is redundant on Agile projects?

Not always. Here are some situations in which I’ve found Use Cases to be quite useful:

• Recently on a project, we were redesigning the Online Subscription process for a website. I found that Use Cases were helpful as a vehicle for getting the designers and developers on the same page regarding the end-to-end process.
• Some Users and Developers are more comfortable with Use Cases, especially if they have never worked with User Stories. In this instance, I find it helpful to begin with a basic Use Case (stripped of all low-level details UI design). Then I explain how to convert the Use Case to a Story.

The Bottom Line: I believe that every project is unique and that, depending on the situation, either Use Cases or User Stories can be valuable.

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