Use Cases – How Are They Different From User Stories

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People often mistake user stories to use cases. The similarities between both create confusion among people, and it is not so unnatural. When it is a small agile project, the usage of either a use case or a user story will not impact much. But when you deal with a long time project, the swap of a user story with a use case or vice versa will cause a big flop, which later results in recoding and time delay. 

There are important differences between user stories and use cases that are responsible for the successful completion of the end-product. As agile software development is a software engineering framework that involves iterative development throughout the project’s life-cycle holding close collaboration and constant communication between the client and the development team. These communication and requirements are shaped into user stories and use cases by the project manager or developers to bring a better outcome of the product. 

Therefore, both user stories and use cases play their own key roles in the development process but are not solely responsible for success. But people are still in a dilemma to decide which one to use as they couldn’t find a clear difference between both of them.

So, are you among those who often get confused between a user story and use case? And thinking which one to use in your project? Relax! A few moments later, you are going to have all the answers. 

Before jumping directly into what makes use cases different from user stories, let’s take a look at what actually are those two. Here are the definitions of user story and use case in simple terms. Read on…

User Stories are the smallest units of work in an agile framework written in an informal language. Each user story includes one or two sentences that discuss the requirements and the design to accomplish the goal related to the product. Usually, a user story is written by users from their perspective to improve the functionality of the design. Most of the time, for a bigger project, user stories are written by the product owners, project managers, and developers focussing on the end result and benefits a customer should gain. 

Use Cases are more granular steps describing your system or the application should work in each event. Simply put, it is the way or possible ways how the end-user uses or wants to use the system. A Use Case is mostly described as the set of interactions between a system and an actor or multiple actors, (where an actor may be people or other systems).

Hope the explanation is clear enough to understand as both the definitions do not collide with each other. Need more details about user stories vs use cases? Check out here Softeco.

Now, let’s get started learning what makes Use Cases different from User Stories. Shall we?

Use Cases Vs User Stories

The reason behind people misunderstanding User Stories to Use Cases is the similarities. For instance, Both Use Case and User Story have user roles, acceptance criteria and goals in the description. But the Use Case uses the terms actor, postconditions, and event flow.

Differences between User Stories & Use Cases

User Story

It is a short story written in 1 or 2 lines describing the environment where developers work with the software.

  • Represents the needs and requirements of users and customers, but are not created by the end-users.
  • A User Story describes the user, his role in the system, benefits, and drawbacks of the system for the user, expectations from the system, and necessary steps to achieve the user’s satisfaction.
  • The development team, project manager and the client take part in writing user stories, hence the interaction leads to other user stories.
  • As User Stories explain the end-goal of the project, they help when testing the performance of the product, acceptance test, and sanity testing.

Use Case

  • A Use Case a statement representing the action of a user with an expected outcome.
  • It acts as a supporting statement to discuss the requirements of the development team.
  • Unlike a User Story, it is a simple, short and clear statement that says what is the action of a user and what is the expected outcome.
  • User Stories are used to create Use Cases.
  • Similar to User Story, Use Case helps while the product’s functional testing.

Let us have a look at examples of both user stories and use cases to add more sense to them.

Example of User Story

The simple and most generic format of a user story goes like:

A [user] should [perform an action] so that the [goal] can be accomplished.

Example:

  1. As a new user, I should be able to register an account to create his customer profile.
  1. As a customer, I need to access my account to update my contact details in the profile.

Example of Use Case

The generic format of a use case looks like:

  • The brief description along with a goal
  • All possible events that initiate a use case
  • Specification of actors
  • Actions to have happened in the system
  • The flow of events (or even deviations of the flow)
  • The end result(Final goal to be achieved after either a normal flow or the deviations)

Got an idea of the differences between a user story and a use case with the examples? To make you understand more deeply about what makes a use case different from a user story, here are three main factors you can use for comparison. Here we go…

Ultimate Goal

  • Use case – describes the user’s behavior
  • User story – describes the user’s needs

Level of Difficulty

  • Use Case – is complex when compared as it is more detailed and more comprehensive as it talks about alternatives
  • User Story – is a simple description as it focuses on the single need of a user explained in one or 2 lines

Use of Content

  • Use Case – explains primary and other possible actions
  • User Story – explains only one action

If you have observed through there are slight similarities and yet important differences between User Stories and Use Cases, they are non-interchangeable. Hence, the answer to the question “which one is better, a user story or a use case” is  both. However, the choice purely depends on the type of the project. As said a tiny project with lesser requirements may not necessarily need both user stories and use cases to be involved, probably use cases can be eliminated here. While a long-term project with a lot of features needs user stories and use cases to understand the requirements and goals of the client clearly.

Final Thoughts

Use cases and user stories contribute to the success of the development of the project. But the important thing to remember is that they should be written clearly and concisely in order to proceed with the further steps in the project without any mess. So, you need to understand the exact difference between a user story and a use case. Hope this article cleared all the confusion between a user story and  a use case.