2 use case diagrams overview
the usage requirements for a system. They
are useful for presentations to management
and/or project stakeholders, but for actual
development you will find that
use cases provide significantly more value
because they describe "the meat" of the actual
requirements. Figure 1
provides an example of a
2 use case diagram.
Use case diagrams depict:
- Use cases. A use case describes a sequence
of actions that provide something of measurable value
to an actor and is drawn as a horizontal ellipse.
- Actors. An actor is a person, organization,
or external system that plays a role in one or more
interactions with your system. Actors are drawn as
- Associations. Associations between
actors and use cases are indicated in use case
diagrams by solid lines. An association exists
whenever an actor is involved with an interaction
described by a use case. Associations are
modeled as lines connecting use cases and actors to
one another, with an optional arrowhead on one end of
the line. The arrowhead is often used to indicating
the direction of the initial invocation of the
relationship or to indicate the primary actor within
the use case. The arrowheads are typically confused
with data flow and as a result I avoid their use.
- System boundary boxes (optional). You can
draw a rectangle around the use cases, called the
system boundary box, to indicates the scope of your
system. Anything within the box represents
functionality that is in scope and anything outside
the box is not. System boundary boxes are rarely
used, although on occasion I have used them to
identify which use cases will be delivered in each
major release of a system.
shows how this could be done.
- Packages (optional). Packages are UML
constructs that enable you to organize model elements
(such as use cases) into groups. Packages are depicted
as file folders and can be used on any of the UML
diagrams, including both use case diagrams and class
diagrams. I use packages only when my diagrams become
unwieldy, which generally implies they cannot be
printed on a single page, to organize a large diagram
into smaller ones.
Figure 3 depicts how Figure 1
could be reorganized with packages.
In the example depicted in
Figure 1 students are enrolling
in courses with the potential help of registrars.
Professors input the marks students earn on assignments
and registrars authorize the distribution of transcripts
(report cards) to students. Note how for some use cases
there is more than one actor involved. Moreover, note
how some associations have arrowheads¾any
given use case association will have a zero or one
arrowhead. The association between Student and
Enroll in Seminar (in the version shown in
Figure 4) indicates this use case is
initially invoked by a student and not by a registrar
(the Registrar actor is also involved with this
use case). Understanding that associations don’t
represent flows of information is important; they merely
indicate an actor is somehow involved with a use case.
Information is flowing back and forth between the actor
and the use case, for example, students would need to
indicate which seminars they want to enroll in and the
system would need to indicate to the students whether
they have been enrolled. However, use case diagrams
don’t model this sort of information. Information flow
can be modeled using
UML activity diagrams. The line between the
Enroll in Seminar use case and the Registrar
actor has no arrowhead, indicating it is not clear how
the interaction between the system and registrars start.
Perhaps a registrar may notice a student needs help and
offers assistance, whereas other times, the student may
request help from the registrar, important information
that would be documented in the description of the use
case. Actors are always involved with at least one use
case and are always drawn on the outside edges of a use
Figure 1. System use case
Figure 2. Using
System boundary boxes to indicate releases.
3. Applying packages to simplify use case diagrams.
Creating Use Case Diagrams
I like to start by identifying as many actors as
possible. You should ask how the actors interact with
the system to identify an initial set of use cases.
Then, on the diagram, you connect the actors with the
use cases with which they are involved. If an actor
supplies information, initiates the use case, or
receives any information as a result of the use case,
then there should be an association between them. I
generally don’t include arrowheads on the association
lines because my experience is that people confuse them
for indications of information flow, not initial
invocation. As I begin to notice similarities
between use cases, or between actors, I start modeling
the appropriate relationships between them (see the
Reuse Opportunities section).
The preceding paragraph describes my general use case
modeling style, an “actors first” approach. Others like
to start by identifying one actor and the use cases that
they’re involved with first and then evolve the model
from there. Both approaches work. The important point
is that different people take different approaches so
you need to be flexible when you’re following AM’s
Model With Others.
shows the three types of relationships between use cases
-- extends, includes, and inheritance -- as well as
inheritance between actors. I like to think of extend
relationships as the equivalent of a "hardware
interrupt" because you don't know when or if the
extending use case will be invoked (perhaps a better way
to look at this is extending use cases are conditional).
relationships as the equivalent of a procedure call.
Inheritance is applied in the same way as you would on
UML class diagrams -- to model specialization of use
cases or actors in this case. The essay
Reuse in Use Case Models describes these
relationships in greater detail.
Figure 4. Use case reuse.
So how can you keep use case
modeling agile? First, focus on keeping it as simple as
possible. Use simple, flexible tools to model with.
I’ll typically create use case diagrams on a whiteboard,
as you see in Figure 5
which is an example of an initial diagram that I would
draw with my project stakeholders. AM tells us that
Content is More Important Than Representation so
it isn’t a big issue that the diagram is hand drawn,
just barely good enough and that’s all that we
need. It’s also perfectly okay that the diagram isn’t
complete, there’s clearly more to a university than what
is depicted, because we can always modify the diagram as
we need to.
Figure 5. Whiteboard
In parallel to creating the sketch
I would also write a very brief description of each use
case, often on a whiteboard as well. The goal is to
record just enough information about the use case so
that we understand what it is all about. If we need
more details we can always add them later either as an
essential/business use case or a
system use case.
This artifact description is excerpted from Chapter 5 of
The Object Primer 3rd Edition: Agile Model Driven
Development with UML 2.
||This is the best book to read if you
want to learn how how write use cases effectively.
The Object Primer 3rd Edition: Agile Model Driven
Development with UML 2 is an
important reference book for agile modelers,
describing how to develop 35
types of agile
models including all 13
UML 2 diagrams.
Furthermore, this book describes the techniques
Full Lifecycle Object Oriented Testing
(FLOOT) methodology to give you the fundamental
testing skills which you require to succeed at
agile software development. The book also
shows how to move from your agile models to
source code (Java examples are provided) as well
as how to succeed at implementation techniques
(TDD). The Object Primer also includes a
chapter overviewing the critical database
development techniques (database refactoring,
legacy analysis, and
database access coding) from my award-winning
Agile Database Techniques
Agile Modeling: Effective Practices for Extreme
Programming and the Unified Process is the seminal
book describing how agile software developers approach
documentation. It describes principles and
practices which you can tailor into your existing
software process, such as
Rational Unified Process (RUP), or the
Agile Unified Process (AUP), to streamline your
modeling and documentation efforts. Modeling and
documentation are important aspects of any software
project, including agile projects, and this book
describes in detail how to
architect, and then
design your system in an agile manner.
The Elements of UML 2.0 Style describes a collection
of standards, conventions, and
for creating effective
UML diagrams. They are based on sound, proven
software engineering principles that lead to diagrams
that are easier to understand and work with. These
conventions exist as a collection of simple, concise
guidelines that if applied consistently, represent an
important first step in increasing your productivity as
a modeler. This book is oriented towards
intermediate to advanced UML modelers, although there
are numerous examples throughout the book it would not
be a good way to learn the UML (instead, consider
The Object Primer). The book is a brief 188
pages long and is conveniently pocket-sized so it's easy
to carry around.
||This is a very good book describing
techniques for working with your stakeholders,
including use case modeling.
Other artifact overviews
System Use Cases and
Essential Use Cases.
Other Use-Case Related Whitepapers
The notation used in these diagrams, particularly the
hand drawn ones, may not conform perfectly to the
current version of the UML for one or more of reasons:
- The notation may have evolved from when I
originally developed the diagrams. The UML
evolves over time, and I may not have kept the
diagrams up to date.
- I may have gotten it wrong in the first place.
Although these diagrams were thoroughly reviewed for
the book, and have been reviewed by thousands of
people online since then, an error may have gotten
past of us. We're only human.
- I may have chosen to apply the notation in
"non-standard" ways. An agile modeler is more
interested in created models which communicate
effectively than in conforming to notation rules set
by a committee.
If you're really concerned about the nuances of
"official" UML notation then read the current version of
We actively work with clients around the world to
improve their information technology (IT) practices,
typically in the role of mentor/coach, team lead, or trainer. A full
description of what we do, and how to contact us, can be
found at Scott W.
Ambler + Associates.