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Use Case Diagrams: A PM's View

~ By Thomas Cutting

Abstract word cloud for Unified Modeling Language with related tags and terms

Recently, I attended a class on managing requirements with Use Cases. It was aimed at training business analysts and programmers to use Unified Modeling Language (UML) to understand and communicate business requirements. As a project manager I found it both enlightening and encouraging.

Enlightenment

Bottom line, modeling requirements is the quickest way to work with the end users and agree upon of what the system should be designed and developed to do. Because our focus was requirements, the class used Use Case diagrams as the basis for the training.

The three main components of a Use Case diagrams are the Actors, Use Cases and Scenarios. Actors are represented by stick figures, Use Cases by ovals and Scenarios by text boxes. An Actor is a role played by either humans or other systems that interact with the system being built. A Use Cases is a complete series of events handled by the system to help the actor achieve a goal. Scenarios detail how the Use Case will achieve those goals.

eXtreme Insurance Use Case Diagram Example
Figure 1 - eXtreme Insurance Use Case Diagram Example.

In one of my training sessions I use the eXtreme Insurance company as the basis for the exercises. The company is creating a new system to support the sale of life insurance policies to extreme sports nuts. These policies will be sold by cashiers of D&L Sporting Goods stores. The diagram details the Purchase Policy use case. Other use cases that would be added to this diagram include Process Claim and Reconcile Transactions.

These quick, graphical representations are developed from information gathered through interviewing the users, observing system usage, researching similar systems and other means. The diagrams are then reviewed with the business to verify understanding, accuracy and completeness of the system. Gaining this clarity early in the process is cheap. Waiting for feedback until a prototype or, even worse, User Acceptance Testing may result in costly rework.

Encouraging

The encouraging part of this class was the way the instructor used Use Cases as a means to establish a requirements baseline and discuss change management. Remember, this was a class designed for analysts and programmers. By moving the discussion to their level, the project manager wins powerful allies for managing scope. Analysts can better identify the required functionality and processes, lower future surprises and rework. Programmers start to recognise gold plating as anything that isn't specified in the Use Cases. When the business begins to ask for additions or changes, clarification begins with revisiting the diagrams and understanding what is different. Those differences become change requests to be processed by the project manager.


Thomas Cutting has earned experience in the entertainment, retail, banking, automotive, healthcare and health insurance verticals. Managing, training, mentoring and working in this diverse background provides the basis for his writing and speaking opportunities. For information or other inquiries, please visit his blog Cutting's Edge Project Management


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