Review of Writing effective use cases by Alistair Cockburn


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?
  • High level vs low level use cases, various styles from ‘casual’ to formal and how a use case can evolve depending on its purpose
    I found this useful as guidance on the perennial problem of business stakeholders preferring high level use cases and IT stakeholders requiring detailed, very precise use cases
  •  Good practice for writing use cases with later chapter including some very specific check lists
  • Complete method for writing use cases from project initiation through to completing the use case model
    This is quite high level but still quite useful as an example.
  •  Relationship between use case modeling and other activities including project planning, design, test and other, more detailed analysis (e.g. screen design)
    This includes useful guidance on how use cases relate to and influence other activities and project artefacts 



This book was originally written in 2001 which makes it relatively old. I don’t think it has dated and, to be honest, the same problems exist in use case modeling today that are discussed in this book. These problems do not change with time. 



I rate this book highly both for novices looking for an introduction to use case modeling and for more experienced people looking to refine their techniques and eliminate some bad habits (like me!).

It is a practical view borne from experience and I would agree with most of the guidance that is expressed.

It is NOT a book for someone who wants an end to end method for completing analysis on a project as it doesn’t cover detailed activities such as screen and report design. However, it does contain a high level method and some useful guidance for how use cases interact with other activities on the project. I believe this is a strength as its very specific focus on use cases produces good guidance that I believe is lacking.


Buy from Amazon in the UK – Writing Effective Use Cases (Crystal Series for Software Development)

Buy from Amazon in the US – Writing Effective Use Cases (Agile Software Development Series)


Please let me know your views and whether you agree or disagree.

About Alex Papworth

2 Responses to “Review of Writing effective use cases by Alistair Cockburn”

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  1. rufman says:

    Alex thanks for the info on this book. I enjoyed your comments very much. Keep up the good work!

    • Alex P says:

      Thanks rufman – I’m glad you found it useful.

      If you end up purchasing let me know your thoughts on the book


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