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4.6 out of 5 stars
Writing Effective Use Cases
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Finally! A book that corrects the numerous problems with use cases - or shall I say the mis use of use cases (no pun intended). Here are some common problems that this book will help you to avoid (there are many more, but these spring immediately to mind):
PROBLEM: A horde of analysts descend and produce reams of paper that are little more than stick figures and ellipses. They are, well, of little value because they are devoid of any real information and too often confusing. The other side of this problem is an unmanageable number of these "use cases" are produced with inconsistent detail, or an overwhelming amount of detail crammed into a single use case. RESULT: Developers have no clear idea about how to proceed and much rework is done to get the needed information (or developers do proceed and create something not envisioned).
PROBLEM: Use cases are considered to be the requirements specification. RESULT: Developers build something based solely on behavior, leaving out functions and features that customers want or need, and most likely not suited to requirements.
PROBLEM: [Related to the preceding] Test plans and test cases for systems built upon the shaky foundation of bad use cases cannot be properly developed. RESULT: A hit-or-miss test cycle that is almost certainly destined to miss a large number of defects (functional and operational).
Mr. Cockburn's approach to use cases will allow you to sidestep not only the more common problems associated with improper use cases, but hundreds more than will crop up unless the value and context of use cases in the development or project life cycle is understood. Here are some of the key points in this book that make it so valuable: use cases are but one element of requirements and the hub-and-spoke model given in the book places them into proper context, properly developed use cases are written documents, not diagrams (more about that later), use cases are NOT the requirements document, properly formed use cases DO have a set structure and different levels of precision in accordance with well-defined rules, and the use case creation process needs to be carefully managed because, like software source code, you need to ensure that you're working from the right revision.
Part 1 of this book provides clear guidance for writing, managing and using use cases. Part 2 of the book is especially valuable because it addresses frequently discussed topics. Part 3 is a comprehensive list of reminders and rules that will guide you, and Appendix A is a succinct discussion on use cases in UML. A few other things that set this book apart: there are numerous "short stories" throughout the book. Each of these stories reinforce information and concepts, and also epitomize Mr. Cockburn's recurring advice to keep things short - he shows by example how to cram clear information into brief chunks of writing. He also provides a summary of pass/fail tests for use case fields that will make inspections and walkthroughs easy. One piece of trivia answered a question that had been bothering be for years, "why the emphasis on stick figures and ellipses?" The answer: the CASE tool industry, which sold graphical tools, had a lot of influence on the emphasis placed on graphical depictions vs. text-based use cases. This book will set you on the right course and not one that has evolved from vendor agendas. I personally think this is the best book on use cases and is the only one I recommend to clients and associates.
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on June 26, 2001
'A Use Case is a prose essay' -- great summary, from a great book.
I've been meaning to read this book again. I learned how to write use cases while reading this book. The value comes through right there.
This book was not as easy to read as I would have liked, but it takes a difficult topic and provides enough usable material to master it. I'm not certain an easy "for dummies" style book is possible, or appropriate. Minus half a star.
The problem with use cases, is that it's an extremely general term that means a lot of specific things to different people. Even with this book, I had to have my co-workers review my format, to establish what conventions to use.
What I found extremely useful, given the complexity of the topic, is that the author presented a number of flexable approaches to developing a use case, stating that the environment and subject matter would determine what details needs to be preserved.
The author uses a confusing visual notation in addition to section headers, which I think would strengthen the book by it's absence. I'm not familar with UML, and some degree of UML knowledge is tacitly expected. That was easy to look past.
I gave this book four stars, because I think a better book on Use Cases is possible. However, from what I have seen, this is the best one out there.
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on May 22, 2001
If there's one book that can be credited with popularizing use cases, this is it. Alistair Cockburn shares his applied knowledge in 'Writing Effective Use Cases' and does so in a very digestible format. This is a handbook, a self-study guide - one full of real-world examples and exercises (with solutions even!) that any analyst or designer can relate to.
Use cases are a form of documenting systems requirements and behavioral design specifications. Written well, they offer benefits to all who participate in the development life cycle. This includes analysts, designers, project managers, developers, testers and even end users. Mr. Cockburn's book takes the reader through the writing process, highlighting both good and bad examples. He makes no claims that any of these examples are perfect. And that is perhaps the greatest element of his book. Commit yourself to read through all the examples. By the time you're finished studying them, you will find your own skills in identifying what makes a 'good' or 'bad' use case have been sharply honed.
Perhaps the one area this book does not explore in enough detail is the translation of documented use cases into user interface designs. Mr. Cockburn defers to 'Software for Use' (another great book) for this. Even so, I would like to have seen some screen shots and comments about the user interfaces that were created from the examples provided. It would have helped tie the whole picture together. Translating use cases to highly usable interfaces is as much an art as it is a science. I believe this element of use-case driven development is best communicated in a live, face-to-face format. That's why organizations like Classic Systems offer workshops on this topic. As an instructor who teaches use case-driven development, I have found 'Writing Effective Use Cases' to be invaluable reference tool. Having tried out a number of Mr. Cockburn's ideas in the classroom, student feedback and learning results have shown me just how potent a learning tool this book can be.
Many designers and developers will tell you they are writing use cases; upon closer inspection, we find very few are writing them well. A poorly written use case can actually cost, rather than save, a project time and money. If your looking for a book that will help you and your team harness the benefits of use cases, this one is a good as it gets.
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My background is not software engineering - it's service delivery and process development. I got this book on a strong recommendation from my mentor because one of my techniques, information mapping, has some gaps when it comes to portraying processes. I had heard of use cases before getting the book, but paid little attention to them.
Mr. Cockburn gives one of the most sensible, logical approaches to capturing, validating and modeling requirements I have ever come across. My initial concern that this book was focused on software requirements was assuaged by the numerous case studies that address processes and policies. This is the heart of what I do, and the book gave complete coverage of it. Of course software engineering-specific material is also addressed since this discipline has the biggest audience.
The sections from which I got the most knowledge are: setting scope for the use cases and the way to use a hierarchy of use cases to depict increasing levels of detail, business process modeling, and the tips for writing use cases. This material pointed me in the right direction for resolving some of the shortcomings inherent in information mapping, and also gave me some fresh ideas on how to effectively and clearly develop processes that are traceable to requirements.
One of the things I liked most about the book is its fast pace and reasonable page count. There is no fluff, and at approximately 300 pages it is an easy read for someone on a busy schedule.
My personal opinion is that this book should be promoted to a much wider audience than software engineering - the approach and techniques will certainly serve the software engineering community well, but are also practices that business analysts, process engineers and others in IT can effectively employ. This one goes in that special section of by library that is reserved for books to which I frequently refer.
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on March 7, 2001
This book was very informative. It really teaches you great techniques for writing Use Cases. It is the best book I've found for writing Use Cases but introduces a couple of concepts that it falls short in conveying understanding. There was never any explanation referring to Extensions meaning Alternative Flow Of Events. This is obvious, so I presumed it to be true. I'm sure many of you know, but nothing explained it, and every example said: None. Even the example that states that an Extension Point is used in the next Use Case, still says: None.
There are grammatical mistakes throughout the book (Not a big deal).
I felt, that if you read this and stay within the realm of the authors suggestions, and disregard the alternative methods, you should be alright. I would suggest to the author improving the explanations of a White Box Use case, instead of supplementing content with examples. I know what White Box is in Design, but It would be wrong of me to presume the same behavior in a Use Case.
The icons are a very handy reminder, and even with all the the perceived problems with the book, I think it's the best one available that I've seen. ESPECIALLY when compared to the Unified Process books.
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on January 8, 2001
Alistair is _the_ master of use cases, with many years of consulting, teaching, and careful thought. I suspect no one knows more about what use cases are, or should be, than the author. The advice in this book shows the polish of much practice and feedback, with insights and tips from the small-scale notational to large-scale process context. I recommend buying this book and making it the cornerstone bible of our use case practice. His emphasis that use case work is about writing text and stories, and fulfilling goals, not diagramming or relating things, is an important message.
Don't be put off the entire book by his use of icons for different use case levels, or the early emphasis on levels and use case taxonomy. The icons are optional and minor. And although the discussion of levels and goals may at first seem a diversion, those who have consulted with use cases for some time are painfully aware that many projects get tied up in a knot during use case modeling by mixing up use cases from different levels, or by writing them at too low a level. The subject is more practical than may first appear.
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on January 20, 2002
I'm a project manager and have given less than 5 stars because the book seems to have been written in a hurry. There are points which perhaps should be highlighted more, eg what steps should be included in Use Cases, or are we concerned only with messages passing between actors or is there more to it? I had to refer back to previous sections a number of times to fully appreciate the real message of Use Cases.
This is a good book, also suitable for beginners. Personally I'd like to see more examples (summary level) for web projects, e-commerce and anything new.
This book has made me understand Use Cases and their purpose, it has a number of useful suggestions on their application and implementation problems/politics. There should be more on how to use/link Use Cases with the 'complete' systems/business requirements documents.
I will use this book as my reference when judging other people's understanding of Use Case concepts.
Arde
MS, PhD
UK
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on December 3, 2000
This book takes the task of writing use cases and provides a set of processes and templates that you can use yourself when you need to define requirements for a software project. The author provides many tips and suggestions that you can apply as well as some real world examples from actual projects. There are different approaches talked about which you can choose from, depending on how detailed you can afford to make your use cases. I immediately created a word template based on some of the examples presented in the book...very useful for creating your own process to use when writing use cases. There's also a lot of very useful tips presented throughout the text (along with examples of poor use cases and how to correct them).
It's an easy read and provides sections that summarize the key points so that you can use it as a quick reference for future work. I recommend it to anyone working on requirements or design for a project.
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on December 3, 2000
This book takes the task of writing use cases and provides a set of processes and templates that you can use yourself when you need to define requirements for a software project. The author provides many tips and suggestions that you can apply as well as some real world examples from actual projects. There are different approaches talked about which you can choose from, depending on how detailed you can afford to make your use cases. I immediately created a word template based on some of the examples presented in the book...very useful for creating your own process to use when writing use cases. There's also a lot of very useful tips presented throughout the text (along with examples of poor use cases and how to correct them).
It's an easy read and provides sections that summarize the key points so that you can use it as a quick reference for future work. I recommend it to anyone working on requirements or design for a project.
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This is an excellent text that covers the various aspects of writing use cases. Cockburn gives a good exposition on the various levels and types of use cases that people use. There is also excellent advice on how to keep from repeating yourself in use case and to keep from cluttering your use cases with conditional logic that is hard to follow. The notion that extensions to use cases include both exceptional and optional behavior simplify use case writing greatly. I have used these techniques and received good responses from my coworkers. Another improvement is splitting the traditional postcondition into minimal and success gaurantees. This idea frees you from the struggle between terminating a use case with a failure and meeting the postcondition. The advice is sound and the examples provide good illustrations for the concepts the author presents. This book is a must read for anyone serious about Writing Effective Use Cases.
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