What is a Use Case? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 What Are Use Cases?
  • 1:23 Example
  • 1:59 What a Use Case Should…
  • 3:00 Benefits of a Use Case
  • 3:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jagina McIntyre

Jagina has conducted professional training in communications and analytics for 12 plus years, with a a degree from Kent State University in Journalism and Communications.

Welcome to the world of use cases. This lesson will introduce you to a fantastic business tool that can be a great help in achieving the best results when creating a new software or just updating a current process.

What Are Use Cases?

Have you ever been disappointed when a new software release does not include that one common feature all users want? Perhaps you were part of planning a new system and could not figure out why the final product was all botched up? If so, understanding how use cases improve your business may be beneficial.

A use case is a description of how a person who actually uses that process or system will accomplish a goal. It's typically associated with software systems, but can be used in reference to any process. For example, imagine you're a cook who has a goal of preparing a grilled cheese sandwich. The use case would describe through a series of written steps how the cook would go about preparing that sandwich. A use case helps you understand where errors could occur in the process and design features to resolve those errors.

Three elements that a use case must contain:

  1. Actor, which is the user, which can be a single person or a group of people, interacting with a process
  2. System, which is the process that's required to reach the final outcome
  3. Goal, which is the successful user outcome

Additional elements that are included in a complex use case:

  1. Stakeholders, which are those who have an interest in how the system turns out, even if they aren't direct users
  2. Preconditions, which are things that must be true before a use case is run
  3. Triggers, which are events that occur for a use case to begin


On Saturday mornings at 11:30, the cook prepares grilled cheese sandwiches at the local food pantry. The cook would be the primary actor using this system. The system contains a frying pan, a cooking device, bread, cheese, butter, a spatula, and a plate. The goal is to create the perfect grilled cheese sandwich for the visitors to the center during the lunch hour.

A use case is a list of steps that illustrate how a process will be carried out in a system. The document walks you through the steps the actor will take to achieve a goal. A use case is written by a business analyst who meets with each user, or actor, to write out the explicit steps in a process.

A use case is a textual document that outlines the steps needed to complete a goal in a process.

What a Use Case Should Look Like

The use case should be a textual, meaning it's a written document. Images aren't necessary, and are used primarily to enhance what the document states. Before developing a use case, it's best to gather the requirements. This process involves meeting with those that would use the system, or the designer of the system, to understand the goals. When possible, the user is the best source, as a system designer may not be able to represent all the real-world scenarios. The use case is supposed to model what the system will eventually do. A good use case will record what's going to happen from the trigger to the goal. The trigger is what causes the event to start through the process. For example, the cook is triggered to begin making sandwiches when the clock strikes 11:30 on Saturday morning.

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