agile top banner

Use Cases: How Are They Different From User Stories & How To Create Them

Read it in 10 Mins

Last updated on
11th May, 2022
12th Sep, 2017
Use Cases: How Are They Different From User Stories & How To Create Them

I could have used the word, “write” instead of “create” use cases. But I didn’t. If you know why, then you are already expert on this topic, so please do share your opinion and knowledge by adding some comments at the end of this article.

If you don’t know why I consciously mentioned “create” instead of “write” then worry not. I will share my thoughts  with you and you can tell me what you think and let’s create a dialogue around it.

In my previous article, I had written about user stories, and how they came into extensive usage, how they help develop better products and how they represent users’ voice at forums users don’t have access to.

If you have not read that article then I would sincerely request you to read that article first as it will immensely help you in getting the right perspective about this topic at hand.

Use cases in simple words are exact statements written in informal manner depicting the specific action that the user is expected to do while dealing with a particular functionality of the product.

If you compare this with the definition of user stories I gave in my previous article, you will notice that here I have defined use cases as “exact statements” whereas I had defined user stories as “generic statements” written in informal manner. Why?

This is because user stories set a foundation upon which great use cases are created or developed. While user stories try to explain to the engineering team about the environment, goal, role, intention of the user while he/she is going to deal or work with the software; use cases clearly define what the user is going to do here and what result is expected in crisp 2-3 lines. Use cases are one level above requirements.

Below is a simple table for quick reference on differences between user stories and use cases.

A simple example of creating use cases from user stories:

Let us take a very simple example of a toothpaste and let’s create use cases out of it. If you want to see how to develop user story then please read my earlier article on user stories.
Always remember, while it will seem easy to create use cases directly from user needs; it is full of pitfalls that might lead to missed functionality and user dissatisfaction later on, after shipping the product.

So a user story would look somewhat like this:
 :    John, a working professional who wants to keep his teeth health and shiny
Role    :    The direct consumer of this product but can influence others by his reviews of a product on his website.
Expected results: After brush, John expects his breath to be fresh and teeth and gums to be health for the whole day.

Now as you can see, John is a very high impact user for us [The toothpaste company] because he can affect our sales by his review of our product on his website. So meeting his needs are very critical for us. Hence the product manager, should create following user story for this scenario.

Sample User Story:

It is 6:30AM in the morning and John has started his morning rituals to be ready for work. Daily, his first routine after waking up is to brush his teeth with his favorite toothbrush so that he gets the refreshing feel to do remaining chores around the house and leave for work on time. He likes the way toothpaste, smoothly oozes out of the tube and rests firmly on this toothbrush without spilling anywhere. Also he likes that somehow, every time he brushes, the exact right amount of the paste comes out of the tube. It is never too much and never too little. It’s just right.

He feels energized after a refreshing brush ritual and likes the feeling of freshness in his mouth after brushing his teeth. His gums feel rejuvenated, breath feels fresh as he tests it out on his palms. After spending whole day at office, where he had multiple cups of coffee, some food and some sugary items, he comes back home. While refreshing himself, he notices that his breath is still fresh and the taste in his mouth is still neutral without any traces of coffee or cheese pizza he had before. He is so pleased with the product that he has bought for himself, that he decides to write about it in his blog tonight.

Now let us create some use cases out of the above user story.

Use case 1: User wants to have a premium quality feel when he/she takes the toothpaste tube in their hand before brushing.
Use case 2: User gently squeezes the tube and he is pleased with the smoothness of the paste flow out of this tube.
Use case 3: User is able to notice the right amount of paste coming out of the tube every time, he/she brushes. It is never too much nor too little. One gentle squeeze always gives out the right amount of paste required for brushing.
Use case 4: User feels an air of freshness in his mouth after brushing and that freshness lasts for minimum of 24 hours. The feeling of freshness is neither overwhelming nor un-noticeable. It is just mild   enough to provide a feeling of freshness while not interfering with user’s culinary habits.
Use case 5: The user is pleased with the fact that the teeth and gums feel very smooth and non-scratchy after every brush.
Use case 6: User is happy about the fact that even after 12 hours of intense work day routine, his breath still feels fresh

And so on and so forth. 

Can you think of some more use cases? If yes, do leave your comment below so that we can discuss on their validity and applicability here.

Is the concept of use cases starting to make itself clear to you now and how they are different from user stories?

Let us try once more. This time let us try to create use cases of this same product but for different customer base.

Sample 2 of creating use cases for a product:

This time, instead of a working professional, John. Let us consider Alayah, a teenage girl in high school.

Actor :    Alayah, a 16 year high school student who is interested in experimenting new things with regards to body hygiene for better well-being and feeling. Her opinion is slightly influenced by the           feedback of her friends and her own personal experiences as she too likes to share her feedback with them.
Role :    A direct consumer of our product and her feedback can motivate others in her circle of influence to try out our product.
Expected Results: While healthy teeth and gum are the most basic of her requirements, she is bored with the same tasting toothpastes on offer these days. She wants to try out a new toothpaste that     not only provides her with best dental protection but also convinces her Mom of her ability to choose different but a better product by herself.

Here, our engineering team’s task is clear. They need to create a product [toothpaste in this case], that not only impresses Alayah but also provides her with the best dental protection that she needs at her age. Her feedback carries the possibility of our product’s adoption by her immediate family members and her close friends, hence opening the market for us. The product should be unique in itself while being the best in terms of quality at cost effective price, since Alayah is not an earning member of her family.

A product manager in this case, will have lot of options to think of a product here and specify to the engineering team. Let us go with one of them. Do share your versions of user stories in this case.

User story:

It’s morning time and Alayah’s alarm is ringing she had set last night to wake her up on time, if she needs to make it to the school without being reprimanded. She quickly jumps into the shower with a toothbrush having toothpaste on it, while her favorite song is playing out on her personal stereo.

While she is freshening up, she is delighted with the fact, even after so many days, her toothpaste continues to give out the same wonderful strawberry flavor that she loves so much. And to add to her delight, her dentist gave her a big thumbs up yesterday on her teeth and gum health. Alayah has been using this toothpaste for a month now and she loves the way, the tube feels like new everyday even after so many uses. She never has to squeeze hard to get the paste out of it. One gentle squeeze and strawberry colored toothpaste gently but firmly oozes out of the tube and rests on the bristles of the brush. Earlier, she used to get lot of scolding from her mother on spilling the paste around the sink, while jumping into shower with toothbrush and paste on it. But ever since, she switched to this new toothpaste, there has not been a single spill ever since. Today, she is definitely going to tell her Mother to make permanent switch to this paste. She will recommend the butterscotch flavor to her Mom because she loves it.

Wow! A wonderful experience of morning ritual for Alayah’; isn’t it?

Let us create use cases for this one.

Use case 1: User is delighted with the fact that tooth paste comes in a flavored version and the flavor of the paste is consistent throughout till the last drop in the tube.
Use Case 2: User is experiencing a natural growth in well-being of her gums and teeth due to the regular usage of toothpaste and is certified by her dentist also. The noticeable difference comes out in 1 month of regular usage.
Use case 3: The user is happy about the quality of the product and feel of it. The flow of the paste is smooth, uniform and consistent. It is firm yet soft to the right degree and grips the bristles of the       brush firmly without leaving behind any residue.
Use case 4: The user is happy with the non-slipperiness of the paste as it holds wells on the toothbrush without spilling on to the floor.
Use case 5: The user is going to recommend the product to her family members owing to its cost effectiveness, quality of results and number of flavored options available to choose from.

In this case, the product manager’s diktat was clear. The toothpaste should be premium feeling with right amount of firmness, variety of flavored options to choose from, health improving and certified.
And how did we learn properly? Because we were able to create user stories and use cases properly depicting the right user environments, their interactions with the system and their expected goals from these interactions.

This is how use cases add value to the development of right product whether it is software based or manufacturing based or service based.

So next time, when you want to ship to the customer, make sure you have all the right user stories targeting the right audience with complete use cases and your product will be a smash hit.

This is why, I said, a product manager “creates” use cases and does not merely “write” them. Because while creating use cases, the product owner gets the feel, intent of the product that will surely be missed out if he/she is merely jotting down the requirements or use cases.

In my next article, I will share with you on how requirements come out of use cases.

Until then, happy creating user stories and use cases and do share your experiences with me on my email or in the comments’ section below.

Thank you for your time!


Abhinav Gupta

Blog Author

PMP, has 12+ years of experience working in Information technology sector and has worked with companies like Infosys and Microsoft in various capacities. He started his career as a manual tester for a world renowned software product and grew on to become automation champion in both functional as well as UI. He has worked with Healthcare units providing various software solutions to companies in North America and has worked with search engine based groups to enhance their experience and provide more bang for buck to their customers.