Use Case Specification


Quick Summary
This document outline illustrates how to write a complete use case specification in order to capture the specific details of a use case (beyond just the models and diagrams you may have drafted), in order to capture the functional requirements of a system. Comprehensive use case specifications can help drive decisions about system architecture, user interface, manuals and tests, and more.


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What this is

A use case is a set of activities performed by a system. These activities provide an observable result of value for the person or system initiating the activities. Essentially, use cases describe what the user fundamentally wants to do with the system.

A use case specification is a document used to capture the specific details of a use case. Use case specifications provide a way to capture the functional requirements of a system.


Why it's useful

Use case specifications provide a means of organizing all of the different scenarios that exist. They add detail beyond what is shown in a use case diagram. They are a useful tool in communicating with project stakeholders, system users, business analysts, and developers. These specifications define requirements in a way that all consumers of the project can understand, creating a common vocabulary for the impacted parties.

While the structure of a use case model helps drive architectural decisions, the specific scenarios outlined in a use case specification serve to verify whether early architectural assumptions are correct. Properly written use case specifications help identify and design objects, system components, and their responsibilities. Use cases also drive the creation of an efficient user interface design. They also help organize the development process. Quality assurance teams test functional requirements based on the content of a use case specification, and this document also assists with defining benchmarks for performance testing. Finally, use case specifications help with the creation of user guides, training manuals, and other related implementation tasks.


How to use it

  • Start by creating a use case model—a visual depiction of all of the use cases for a system. Creating use case diagrams prior to writing a use case specification helps frame important project details, including a better understanding of the actors impacted by the system.
  • Create one use case specification for every use case diagram in the use case model.
  • In iterative development, it is not necessary to complete all aspects of the use case specification in one sitting. Rather, it may be desirable to complete the basic flow and define key alternative and exception flows during an initial pass, but to complete those additional flows only after many of the system’s key basic flows are defined.
  • Use this document to collaborate with project team members, including business partners, design teams, and developers.
About the Author

Sinikka L. Waugh, PMP, is the founder and head coach of the project management coaching firm Your Clear Next Step, L.L.C. Sinikka is an actively practicing project management consultant, known for consistently helping teams find innovative ways to leverage effective project strategies across multiple disciplines and technologies. With over 10 years in project roles (primarily program manager, project manager, and business analyst) Sinikka has successfully applied project and leadership expertise to improve project performance in a wide variety of industries, including publishing, education, product fulfillment and distribution, insurance, event and travel management, human resources, and financial services. As a coach, Sinikka’s down-to-earth, "try-this-now" approach blends with her passion for helping others improve. Her energetic and engaging style helps make both the art and science of project management accessible to those she works with.

Sinikka holds a BA from Central College, an MA from the University of Iowa, and is a certified Project Management Professional through the Project Management Institute.


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