Use case example – removing the ‘how’ from requirements

I met with members of a project management office this week to plan an upcoming software project. Do understand that this is not an agile software shop. So when I suggested we create use cases in lieu of a more formal requirement document suite I received some inquisitive stares. Really more like stares that silently said ‘huh?’

This particular software release does not include any new functional capabilities. It’s more targeted for user interface and site flow types of enhancements. I wanted a set of project artifacts that were more focused on context, flow, and results rather than something filled with sections of  pre-written project governance language.  The point of my suggestion to them was not start a full discussion on software development methodology, but get through the requirements phase  by being less document centric.

Of uses cases and user stories.

Use cases are an early form of user stories. For waterfall and traditional project management shops, the user story provides a nice alternative from a set of fully loaded requirements. I like them because they are written in logical sequenced steps which aid both development and testing staffs.  User stories take the simplification of documentation to another level, but that’s not the scope of what I writing about today.

A use case is part of the eCommerce Organization responsibilities in the experience and usability area.  This document often works as a piece of the overall usability design including mock-ups and process maps.

Removing the ‘how’ from requirements.

I like uses cases because they show how interactions with software are observed by the user. This allows the author to focus on ‘what’ rather than ‘how’.  A use case creates a dialogue with the solution owner on what they expect to happen under specific situations. So a use case does not include internal algorithms or details about the UI. Those are taken from other documents such as mock-ups or design documents.

This type of project artifact and conversation offers a project team several key features:

  1. Allows business users to talk about ‘what’ in their language. This is more natural to business and solution owners and prevents them from being burdened with IT system speak about capabilities and system constraints.
  2. Keeps the business analyst from over analyzing. The point is to talk more in natural language and flow.
  3. Simplifies the process of collecting fully loaded requirements which may not be appropriate for the scope of the project.
  4. Produces a document that is easy to understand for development and QA in the design and build-out of code and test cases.

A sample use case.

Use-Case Specification:  Select shipping method


1.0 – Initial version


The goal is for the customer to select a shipping method for their purchase and to proceed with checkout.


Select shipping method covers the first page within the checkout process which collects the shipping method and shipping address of the customer.




  1. The customer has least one item in their cart.
  2. The shipping method logic will enforce rules regarding class of service and delivery address


The shipping selection page is triggered by:

  1. The customer selecting checkout from the shopping cart
  2. The customer selecting to return to previous step from the final order summary


  1. The customer must maintain at least one item in their shopping cart for the shipping selection page to be a valid option.

Flow of Events

Primary Flow

  1. The customer enters their delivery address
  2. The customer chooses an available shipping method
  3. The customer selects to continue with checkout

Alternate Flow #1 Step 3

  1. The customer selects to go back to the shopping cart

Alternate Flow #2 Step 3

  1. The customer changes their delivery address and/or shipping method
  2. The customer selects to continue with checkout


  1. The customer will either return to the shopping cart or proceed to the final order summary.

Business Rules

  1. Non-USPS carriers do not deliver to PO Box addresses.
  2. Show the class of service rather than the carrier (i.e. 2nd day, Overnight, First Class)