David v. Goliath, User Stories v. Use Cases

As I was saying, you forget about something, and then suddenly its everywhere. So it was the other day when I saw someone on LinkedIn asking:

        “Which is best, User Stories or Use Cases?”

Unlike the story points, use cases are an alternative to User Stories so this question at least makes sense. But, a bit like when your child asks “Who is the best Superman or Winston Churchill?” you have to say “What do you want them to do? Feature in a comic book or lead a country?”

In many ways Use Cases are better: they are better thought out, originally part of UML they have their own notation – they are almost a requirements analysis technique in their own right – and they are great for well rounded requirements gathering.

User Stories on the other hand were invented in the heat of work and the originators never thought they would last. It was an interesting idea which just caught on. Somehow they became a standard part of agile, Scrum and even SAFe.

On that basis there is no competition, David v. Goliath, User Stories are the plucky David but Goliath holds all the cards. However…

Use Cases have an Achilles heal: all those diagrams notation, specific language and thinking behind them mean they require effort to understand. Typical Use Case training courses last two or three days. Contrast that with User Stories. My online primer next month will give you 50% of what you need to know in a couple of hours. When I’ve run User Story training in the past one day is enough.

For professionals – business analysis, product managers, etc. – that isn’t really a big deal. But it is a big deal when talking to customers, users and all those people who want the thing you are building. Techniques like Use Cases create a barrier between the experts with their specialist notation and the end-users. That is a big problem.

Like so much else it is a question of context. If you are building the control software for a nuclear power station, something which must be exact and will have very few users, changes slowly over time, somewhere you can’t “move fast and break things” then go with Use Cases. But, if you are building the customer self-service portal for an electricity company go with User Stories.

Book now for User Stories Primer – places limited,

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Thanks to Kishorekumar 62 for the Use Case image, CCL license via WikiMedia Commons.

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