Monday, January 11, 2010

Writing Use Cases

I thought I would re-familiarize myself with the art of writing "use cases". (A snappy definition is "A use case is a prose description of a system’s behavior when interacting with the outside world.") After a little bit of research, I quickly concluded that Alistair Cockburn's Writing Effective Use Cases, first published in 2000, is still the bible for this topic.

I thought I would see if he has any more recent publications. I found his website and immediately liked it, as he describes himself as "an internationally renowned project witchdoctor". It seems he is still teaching a course based on his book as well as courses based on the Crystal and SCRUM agile methodologies.

Browsing the site, I noticed that Alistair seems to have evolved his thinking a bit on use cases. Reading the pages tagged "use cases" it appears that he has been moving towards a mature and nuanced view of where they work and the exact form(s) the use cases should take. His reflections on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of publishing his book are particularly illuminating. He still uses use cases, but seems to favour "ultra light" use cases in some situations .

My take away is that use cases and stories make sense as a way to structure requirements documents. And that there is value in delivering even just sketches of use cases, particularly when combined with "agile" methods.

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