Use Case vs. User Story – Everything You Need To Know

Ruth Hadari
Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert
Posted on
Mar 3, 2022
Updated on
Jul 21, 2022
Table of Content

Is use case the same thing as user story? For years we’ve been troubled by this question. There’s even a debate on whether agile teams should deploy user stories vs. use cases vs. user scenarios to communicate with the design team and final users.

It's hard to determine which is better for the development team since these methodologies are so similar in name, functionality, and goals.

So, let’s dive in and understand how user stories are different from use cases. 

What is a Use Case?

A use case explains how a user will interact with the system, device, a piece of equipment, or people. In technical terms, it’s a detailed description of a set of interactions between a system and one or more actors (end-user or other systems). 

Have you ever felt that the product you imagined is different from the product developed? Or that it lacks a feature you expected to see in the final version? Many of us can relate and understand why businesses prefer use cases in the first place. 

Benefits of Use Cases

Use cases are beneficial for the development team as they reveal how a system should behave while helping identify any errors. You can also use them to:

  • Establish the complexity and cost of the system.
  • Identify system needs in the earlier stages.
  • Focus on both user and system.
  • Identify system exemptions and boundaries.
  • Save developers time by defining system requirements.

Application of Use Cases

A use case is helpful during various software development stages, and is typically written by business analysts. Product and development teams employ use cases in a variety of situations, such as:

  • Product design, testing and development.
  • Creating a rough outline of the user manual.
  • Employing a user-focused approach for developing products.
  • Providing planning system requirements.
  • Identifying and minimizing errors. 
  • Validating a design.

What is a User Story?

User stories define the who, what and why of the product or feature. They are usually short, simple descriptions from a user’s perspective. They facilitate planning and discussion while shifting focus to necessary features.

User stories concentrate on user needs, leaving room for discussion on solutions and system results. They deliver a solution to the user that can fit into the customer’s business workflow while increasing organizational value.

Benefits of User Story

User stories are designed to be as straightforward as possible, sparing the team from having to decode technical jargon. Beyond this, they:

  • Facilitate user story mapping.
  • Simplify curated conversions.
  • Condense loads of crucial information.
  • Liberate creative thinking regarding design solutions.
  • Are easy to understand.
  • Enable the team to focus on the user rather than the system or feature.
  • Build momentum by giving teams a feeling of progress.

Applications of User Story

User stories are usually aimed at developers, but can easily be understood by everyone on the team, placing everyone on the same page.

A product or project developed in an agile environment usually has user stories added to the product backlog for a more cohesive understanding of it. Moreover, it helps product teams to break down development tasks into user stories instead of product features.

When to choose User Stories over Use Cases

The answer depends on your team, type of product, organization and client.

User stories are ideal when focusing on creativity and discussion while keeping everything brief yet straightforward. On the other hand, use cases provide concrete, detailed and complete descriptions that come in handy where large teams or complex projects are involved. 

Therefore, before deciding between the two, lay down the strengths and weaknesses of both and evaluate which benefits your team. 

Use Case vs. User Story

While user stories and use cases identify the system and its users and describe their goals, the two aren’t interchangeable. Use cases and user stories serve different purposes. 

The use case is way more specific and looks directly at how a system will respond. It is often written as a document describing the interactions between a system and an actor, and how this interaction will achieve a goal. Software testers and developers use them to understand which steps are needed to satisfy end-user requests.

Conversely, a user story is an agile development technique that’s focused on the outcome of the activities. It also takes into consideration the benefits of the process. However, it is less documented and deliberately ignores important details, which as a result prompts during scrum meetings.  

User scenarios, on the other hand, are stories designers create to demonstrate how users would interact with the system or environment to achieve their goal. It provides an insight into users’ needs, motivation, barriers, and system usability. They succinctly and explicitly capture users’ experiences with flexible tools and usability testing. 

Final Words

We can sum up that there is a lot of difference between use case and user story, but both keep users at the center of their development efforts. 

Both serve different purposes, so it’s advisable to consider the number of team members, the complexity of a project, and specific client requirements before choosing one over the other. 

About the author

Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert

Highly experienced in leading multi-organizational teams, groups, in-shore as well as off-shore. The go-to person who is able to simplify the complex. An agile advocate, experienced in all common methodologies. Responsible for the entire software development lifecycle process from development, QA, DevOps, Automation to delivery including overall planning, direction, coordination, execution, implementation, control and completion. Drives execution, and communicates on status, risks, metrics, risk-mitigation and processes across R&D.

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