Developing a Use Case: How to and Why It Is Important
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Developing a use case allows you to create a set of rules that determines how a company may respond to users' behaviors. This method of planning is an important step in building or implementing a new program. Use case considers traditional and alternative outcomes, ensuring you meet users' goals. In this article, we discuss the importance of developing a use case, as well as steps you can take when developing your own.
What does developing a use case mean?
Developing a use case refers to a written description that provides information on how a system plans to complete a task. It's a document that outlines how a system or process responds to user behaviors. In summary, it is a series of actions that a system performs to achieve a specified result. It combines a set of behaviors or scenarios that work together to obtain a common goal. Elements of a use case include:
A description of the user
Desirable behaviors of the user
The user's overall goal
The specific steps the user takes to complete their goal
The response of the process based on a user's actions
Related: What Is a User Persona?
Importance of developing a use case
A use case helps project managers overcome ambiguous goals related to a project. Depending on a project's scope, it can sometimes be challenging to outline specific requirements, especially when a project includes newer processes or technologies. Developing a use case can be a way to overcome this as it can allow you to define these requirements, as well as maintain the consistency of all requirements of a project. There are many benefits of developing a use case, including:
It explains the process of how a system should react to certain behaviors. A use case explains a user's behaviors to the system, guiding it on how to respond.
It helps to predict mistakes or errors. A use case can also help the system with predicting mistakes before they occur.
It supplies a system with a list of goals. A use case can also help provide the system with a list of goals, as well as steps on how to achieve those specific goals.
It provides you with a set of rules. These rules can guide you on how best to use technology to meet user goals.
It helps project managers obtain clarity of their project. A use case can also help project managers better understand the client's requirements.
It maintains open communication between logistics and information technology. A use case can help logistic and IT teams better collaborate.
How to develop a use case
You can develop a use case with the following steps:
1. Determine the user
It is important to first determine the user. You can refer to this person as an actor. Actors play a specific role and represent a certain category of other users. You may describe actors as primary or secondary. A primary actor has a goal that requires the system's assistance whereas a secondary actor has a goal that the system requires information to complete. A few examples of users may be a website user or a program. Actors can be customers, project managers, technicians or employees.
Related: A Definitive Guide to User Flow
2. Identify the user's goals
Choose one type of user and identify their goals. You can usually establish which actor to use by considering the process or system and who it intends to help. You might also have preconditions as a part of this step. These are features that you already know you need, like the ability to buy something online or a built-in system that encourages the purchase of additional items.
3. Define the steps necessary to complete the goal
Consider what steps the user will need to take to complete the goal. Be as specific as possible including the steps the user takes, as well as the outcome and how the system should respond to each one. Anything that an actor, primary or secondary, wants to complete is a goal. You may categorize goals as either rigid or soft goals. Rigid goals must reach completion and are usually a minimum requirement of the use case system in question. A soft goal is one that is a desirable outcome but is not a requirement.
By carefully going through each step and goal of the user, you can create an outline of the system's functionality.
4. Consider alternative outcomes
Creating a use case requires that you predict the usual outcome of behavior. While you may be able to predict the outcome of a user's actions, some actions have multiple potential outcomes. In these cases, you will need to brainstorm alternative outcomes for each step. You will add these as an extension to the use case you are creating.
5. Compare use cases and identify any commonalities
Once you create a full list of use cases based on the user's actions, you want to compare them. Look for any commonalities between behaviors and outcomes. From this, you can establish a set of rules. These rules can guide you in creating response actions for the processing system.
6. Repeat for all users
Once you complete the process of developing a use case for an individual user, you may repeat the process for all additional users. Most processes have multiple groups of users and you may need to go through each of these steps for each one.
Example of developing a use case
Here is an example of a use case using the template provided:
Determine the user
A local bakery wants to offer online ordering and reservations. They are working with a project manager of a local information technology company to choose the right program and ensure they meet the needs of their online customers. In this case, the user is their target customer as they navigate the online website. During the testing and implementation of the project, the user may also be a computer system.
Identify the user's goals
The project manager now wants to identify the user's goals. A precondition also exists that customers should be able to check out and pay online. The project manager goes through the process of ordering, determining the goal with each step. They want to accomplish objectives like setting a pickup date and time, choosing a bakery location and adding their items to the order.
Define the steps necessary to complete the goal
The project manager works with the bakery manager, going through each step to determine what is necessary to complete the user's goals. They do this with each drink item on the menu, as well as bakery goods, ensuring that the system responds as it should. They may also implement a computer system to complete further testing of behaviors.
Consider alternative outcomes
Once they compile a list of necessary steps based on the user's goals, the team works together to consider any alternative outcomes. They consider scenarios like bulk orders or customers who don't want to provide payment information online. They establish solutions to overcome each of these alternative outcomes until they have considered each possible user behavior.
Compare use cases and identify any commonalities
The team then looks for commonalities with the set of rules, combining ones that are similar. For example, each drink should prompt the user to request a size and flavor. They can apply these categories across all drink types.
Repeat for all users
The team then works together to compile a list of other users, repeating the use case process. They consider things like catering orders or if the customer wants to order while in the shop. They repeat each of the steps.
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