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User Stories vs. Use Cases: A Comprehensive Guide

PUBLISHED

28 November, 2023

Tope Longe
Tope Longe

Growth Manager

user stories vs use cases

The success of any product development relies on how effective teams are at capturing and translating requirements into solutions. User stories and use cases are two popular methods that are used to capture these requirements. 

Both methods differ in how requirements are viewed yet complement each other, leaving many teams wondering which is better. So, UXCam has stepped in to share our knowledge and wisdom in all things product development.

Keep reading as we discuss the battle between user stories vs. use cases to help you decide which technique is better or perhaps both will be suitable in unlocking your apps’ potential.

User stories vs. use cases: an overview

User stories and use cases are two different methods for planning and explaining the requirements and features of a product.

User stories are tools for guiding the development of a product by capturing what the user wants from it. They're written as a simple, easy-to-follow narrative—usually, “As X, I want Y so that I can do Z.” This format makes it easier to focus on the user’s needs and goals, rather than getting bogged down in low-level technical details.

Use cases provide a more structured approach to product development by breaking down processes into distinct steps. Every use case is a distinct scenario in your product that can help the user achieve a specific goal—“book a flight”, for example. The use case also contains the features and steps necessary to complete the goal.

Both require an in-depth understanding of users informed by data.

Session replay in UXCam

To gather this data, product analytics tools like UXCam can be used to track the user’s journey on a website or app. This allows teams to gather feedback on how users interact with each feature, as well as identify areas where usability is weak.

What are user stories?

User stories are simple, concise descriptions or narratives that capture the features and functionality of a product from the user’s perspective. Using non-technical language, it communicates how a product will provide specific value to the customer.

They serve as a user-centric method for communicating desired functionality and features among product and development teams and stakeholders. They can be used to create acceptance criteria, defining the conditions that need to be met to deem a user story complete.

User story structure 

Any role–user(s), stakeholder(s), or entity— another system that interacts with the system is labeled an “actor.” User stories are usually written using this template:

“As a [user/stakeholder], I want [feature] so that [benefit].”

Here are some examples of how a typical user story may be written:

ActorFeatureBenefit
As LukeI want to organize my workso I can get more done.
As a technical support analystI want to receive alerts as soon as there is a platform issueso I can fix it immediately.
As a product managerI want to collect in-app behavior analyticsso I can design empathic products.

Advantages of user stories

  • Customer-centric approach: They focus on the user's or stakeholder's perspectives and needs and ensure product development alignment.

  • Iterative and flexible: They're suitable for iterative development, as you can add new stories and change existing ones based on user feedback.

  • Simple and straightforward: They're usually written to accommodate non-technical team members and promote effective communication.

Disadvantages of user stories

  • Lacks detailed documentation: The user story format may lead to ambiguity and a lack of complete understanding of feature and requirement details.

  • Limited dependency visibility: Their focus on user needs can cause a lack of dependency and interactions between user stories visibility. This can lead to coordination issues.

  • Difficult to estimate effort: It lacks direct details estimating effort and technical considerations, making it difficult to evaluate the time and resources required.

What are use cases?

Use cases are scenarios or descriptions that outline how a system can achieve specific goals or solve a problem. They describe interactions between actors and the system to achieve the desired outcome in various situations. Use cases can help understand a product's requirements and functionalities, steer development, and provide transparency on how the system should be used in practical situations.

In Agile, use cases are used to describe the interactions between users and the system. Scenarios specify the intended functionality from the user’s perspective, system behavior, and expected outcomes.

Use case structure 

The typical structure of a use case includes several components:

  • Actors: These can be individuals or systems interacting with the system described.

  • Description: A summary of the main goal or objective.

  • Preconditions: These define the prerequisites before the use case can start.

  • Basic flow: A step-by-step description of the critical interactions and actions between the actors and the system.

  • Alternative flows: Descriptions of alternative paths or variations from the main flow that may happen.

  • Dependencies: These are related use cases, systems, or modules needed for successful use case execution.

Example:

Title: User Registration

Description: Focuses on the user registration process for an online shopping app.

Actors: User: The person creating an account.

System: The shopping app.

Preconditions: The user has internet access and a compatible device and has opened the shopping app.

Main Flow:

  1. User selects the “Sign Up” option.

  2. The system presents a registration form prompting users to enter their details.

  3. The user enters the required details and submits the form.

  4. System validates entered information, e.g., checks whether an email address is unique.

  5. The system creates a new user account if checks are successful.

  6. The system sends a verification email to the user’s email address.

  7. The user clicks on the verification link to confirm registration.

  8. The system verifies the confirmation and activates a new account.

  9. The system displays a successful registration message.

  10. The user can access their account.

Use cases example

Source: Use case diagram for online ordering system 

Advantages of use cases

  • Clear understanding: They offer an easy-to-understand, structured representation of system behavior.

  • Help communication and collaboration: They facilitate effective communication between developers, business analysts, and stakeholders.

  • Requirement validation: They enable requirement validation and highlight possible gaps for issues.

Disadvantages of use cases

  • Complexity: In complex systems, the number of use cases can become overwhelming and challenging to manage.

  • Time-consuming: Gathering requirements, defining scenarios, and documenting interactions take time.

  • Limited representation: Possibility for requirement gaps and overlooked functionalities as use cases may not capture all possible system interactions.

User Stories vs. Use Cases: Key Differences

User StoriesUse Cases
GranularityUser stories usually discuss small units of functionality, focusing on specific user value.Use cases provide a more inclusive representation of systems interactions and behavior.
FormatUser stories are expressed in an informal and non-technical format, using short sentences.Use cases are detailed and structured in format with multiple sections.
User-centric vs. System-centricUser stories are centered around the requirements and goals of the end user. The focus is on the “who,” “what,” and “why.”Use cases are centered around system behavior and interactions from a technical perspective, describing how the product should work.
Communication and CollaborationUser stories are used for communication and collaboration, emphasizing face-to-face conversations between development teams, customers, and stakeholders.Use cases offer detailed documentation that may be used as formal system documentation and requirements specifications.
FlexibilityUser stories can be easily added, modified, and reordered in the product backlog to prioritize incremental delivery.Due to their structured format, use cases require more effort to change.
Best time to useIn agile development: User stories are typically used inRequirements specification: Useful when detailed

Use UXCam to Assist in User Stories and Use Cases

User stories and use cases play a key role in capturing requirements. The main difference between the two is user stories focus on the user’s viewpoint, while use cases focus on system behavior and interactions. However, there is no clear winner here. In deciding which technique to go with, consider which technique will meet your needs better, or you can use both.

UXCam supports product teams in developing and refining user stories and use cases. Our platform delivers a deep understanding of user behavior, provides data-driven evidence to valid user stories, and validates use cases by seeing how users behave and interact with the app.

To learn more about how UXCam helps product teams refine their requirement-capturing process, request a demo or start a free trial today.

AUTHOR

Tope Longe
Tope Longe

Growth Manager

Ardent technophile exploring the world of mobile app product management at UXCam.

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