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Writing Effective Use Cases (Crystal Series for Software Development) [Paperback]

Alistair Cockburn
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Oct 2000 0201702258 978-0201702255 1

Use cases have never been this easy to understand -- or this easy to create! In Writing Effective Use Cases, Alistair Cockburn offers a hands-on, soup-to-nuts guide to use case development, based on the proven concepts he has refined through years of research, development, and seminar presentations. Cockburn begins by answering the most basic questions facing anyone interested in use cases: "What does a use case look like? When do I write one?" Next, he introduces each key element of use cases: actors, stakeholders, design scope, goal levels, scenarios, and more. Writing Effective Use Cases contains detailed guidelines, formats, and project standards for creating use cases -- as well as a detailed chapter on style, containing specific do's and don'ts. Cockburn shows how use cases fit together with requirements gathering, business processing reengineering, and other key issues facing software professionals. The book includes practice exercises with solutions, as well as a detailed appendix on how to use these techniques with UML. For all application developers, object technology practitioners, software system designers, architects, and analysts.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Addison Wesley; 1 edition (5 Oct 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0201702258
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201702255
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 18.8 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 129,362 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

Alistair Cockburn's Writing Effective Use Cases is an approachable, informative, and very intelligent treatment of an essential topic of software design. "Use cases" describe how "actors" interact with computer systems and are essential to software-modelling requirements. For anyone who designs software, this title offers some real insight into writing use cases that are clear and correct and lead to better and less costly software.

The focus of this text is on use cases that are written as opposed to modelled in UML. This book may change your mind about the advantages of writing step-by-step descriptions of the way users (or actors) interact with systems. Besides being an exceptionally clear writer, the author has plenty to say about what works and what doesn't when it comes to creating use cases. There are several standout bits of expertise on display here, including excellent techniques for finding the right "scope" for use cases. (The book uses a colour scheme in which blue indicates a sea-level use case that's just right while higher-level use cases are white and over-detailed ones are indigo. It also provides notational symbols to document these levels of detail within a design.)

This book contains numerous tips on the writing style for use cases and plenty of practical advice for managing projects that require a large number of use cases. One particular strength lies in the numerous actual use cases (many with impressive detail) borrowed from real-world projects that demonstrate both good and bad practices. Even though the author expresses a preferences for the format of use cases, he presents a variety of styles, including UML graphical versions. The explanation of how use cases fit into the rest of the software engineering process is especially good. The book concludes with several dozen concrete tips for writing better use cases.

Software engineering books often get bogged down in theory. Not so in Writing Effective Use Cases, a slender volume with a practical focus, a concise presentation style, and something truly valuable to say. This book will benefit most anyone who designs software for a living. --Richard Dragan

From the Back Cover

Writing use cases as a means of capturing the behavioral requirements of software systems and business processes is a practice that is quickly gaining popularity. Use cases provide a beneficial means of project planning because they clearly show how people will ultimately use the system being designed. On the surface, use cases appear to be a straightforward and simple concept. Faced with the task of writing a set of use cases, however, practitioners must ask: "How exactly am I supposed to write use cases?" Because use cases are essentially prose essays, this question is not easily answered, and as a result, the task can become formidable.

In Writing Effective Use Cases, object technology expert Alistair Cockburn presents an up-to-date, practical guide to use case writing. The author borrows from his extensive experience in this realm, and expands on the classic treatments of use cases to provide software developers with a "nuts-and-bolts" tutorial for writing use cases. The book thoroughly covers introductory, intermediate, and advanced concepts, and is, therefore, appropriate for all knowledge levels. Illustrative writing examples of both good and bad use cases reinforce the author's instructions. In addition, the book contains helpful learning exercises--with answers--to illuminate the most important points.

Highlights of the book include:

  • A thorough discussion of the key elements of use cases--actors, stakeholders, design scope, scenarios, and more
  • A use case style guide with action steps and suggested formats
  • An extensive list of time-saving use case writing tips
  • A helpful presentation of use case templates, with commentary on when and where they should be employed
  • A proven methodology for taking advantage of use cases

With this book as your guide, you will learn the essential elements of use case writing, improve your use case writing skills, and be well on your way to employing use cases effectively for your next development project.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book on use cases. 8 Jan 2002
By A Customer
I was disappointed to see that the previous reviewer thought so little of this book. Personally, I thought it was excellent. As a systems analyst, I need to employ use cases as a way for users to understand how they would use the system - in 'everyday' language. I thought this is precisely the reason why the book was written. Rarely can I get users interested in state diagrams, event/action analysis etc. Users that have this ability don't need use cases:-)
Also, I felt Cockburn clearly explained where use cases sit with regard to other requirement types. If you want a good book that shows you how to write behavioral requirements in 'user-speak', this is the one!
I think there are many good books, which show how to take use cases down to a more formal representation for development purposes. "Applying UML and Patterns" by Craig Larman , Second edition is one of them. In it, he describes the refinement of a use case into system contracts with pre-post conditions, static model etc. Another great book!
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genuinely a very very good book 29 Jan 2006
By A Customer
I have read a number of books about modelling requirements on the back of endorsements such as "It's the industry bible for X". Writing Effective Use Cases was similarly recommended to me.
Having read it I can only wholeheartedly agree. It is well written, the lessons coming to life through numerous real-world examples and summaries for busy readers. There is plenty of content here, but the technique is expertly unravelled, each element dealt with in its turn.
In some ways I wish I had read this book a long time ago. In other ways, the mistakes that I have made over the last year have made me appreciate the true value of this book.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I wish I had read this book years ago. 27 Feb 2005
I have read a number of UML books in the past and nearly all of them have passed off Use Case writing with a sentence like "A complete discussion of this is a topic for a whole other book." Well this is the other book.
In just 230 pages (there is little waffle here), Alistair manages to give the topic very thorough coverage. The number of different Use Case styles presented and the discussion about when to use each particularly impressed me. The examples too are surprisingly complete with almost no ... in.
My only criticism is the books structuring with some chapters being 20 pages and others less than a whole side. Also the amount of forward and backward referencing can get a bit much at times.
This book has definatly improved my use cases. All in all, though, I wish I had read this book years ago.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
In my opinion Alistair Cockburn has written the definitive practical guide to writing Use Cases. This book is obviously written by someone who has great practical experience, rather than just understanding the theory. I have used this book as my guide leading a team of analysts, on a project where there was no prior experience of writing Use Cases. Fortunately this book has answers to just about all of the issues we came across on a highly complex project. It comes highly recommended. Topics I would like to see included in a second edition would be writing Use Cases for Batch functions, and more about (already covered to some extent) Use Cases in the context of the Project Life-cycle. Viz. leaveraging the Use Cases to assist BPR, Design and Testing activities. Well done Alistair, a absolute god send.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I reviewed this book as I believe there is little out there in the way of training or guidance on how to do use case modeling well. This is one of the few books that has a specific use case focus.


Alistair Cockburn is a name you will come across if you spend any time researching use cases as he has been doing use case modeling and both writing and training on that subject since the mid nineties.


The book is presented clearly and is written in a manner that does not require any specific background, technical or otherwise. Diagrams are used to illustrate where possible but, considering use cases are a narrative form, it's reasonable that there aren't many. There are plenty of examples and exercises are provided for you to tackle.


It is well structured with early chapters taking you through the principles of use case modeling and the various elements of the use case model. The latter chapters provide more concise, focussed material for the more experienced reader to refer to, including guidelines on use case construction and common mistakes.


The book itself covers the following areas (amongst others):

Principles for a use case - what should a use case aim to deliver?
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Use case theory is simple, but putting it into practice can leave you scratching your head. Hitting the right level is hard for even practiced people, never mind people just starting with the technique.
Fortunately, this is a clear and concise guide to the practical side of use cases, which no other book I've read covers to an acceptable depth. Alistair uses a slight variation of vanilla use cases, which IMHO makes them a lot more understandable. He also puts UML and graphical methods/diagrams in context.
Plus I like his icons.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Get to the real nitty gritty of Use Cases.
It really digs deep into Use cases, I am yet to read it through, but where I am at the moment already makes me feel like I have got my money's worth, there are examples, some of... Read more
Published 12 months ago by victoria
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book on UCs I've ever seen
This is a top-notch book on Use Cases. I got it because I had to write Use Cases for a programming and configuration tool for a safety controller used with electric motor drives in... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Gareth Greenwood
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good
I used this book prior to a BCS course and it proved an excellent primer. The book contains all the useful info you need.
Published 14 months ago by kbnun
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most important books on product development ever
I'm a big proponent of Agile but I keep coming back to this book again and again and again.

It provides, for me, a wonderful way of thinking about the value-engineering... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Clarke
3.0 out of 5 stars Dull but useful
This is never going to be a riveting read so prepare yourself for that.

Use Cases are like every business strategy, a fad, a flash in the pan that will be replaced by... Read more
Published on 3 May 2011 by AM
5.0 out of 5 stars Good introduction to Use Cases
Good introduction to the art of writing good Use Cases with examples of good and bad. I also found it was written in an easy to read mannor.
Published on 8 Sep 2008 by Mr. J. C. Fisher
5.0 out of 5 stars Its a brilliant book!
This book is brilliant. Having gone through the pain of RUP for analysis, this is the book I wish we'd had before we started. Read more
Published on 25 Nov 2003 by "kiwisurfer"
4.0 out of 5 stars Good for Requirements Gathering; read 2 times to understand.
I'm a project manager and have given less than 5 stars because the book seems to have been written in a hurry. Read more
Published on 20 Jan 2002
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