Thursday 17 September 2020

Two Use Cases

System requirements are often documented by use cases [1]. We can identify an important aspect of the use case concept and its application by comparing two simplified examples: using an ATM and using a lift. The traditional depictions are a stick figure labelled ATM_User with an arrow pointing to an ellipse labelled Use_ATM, and the same graphic with labels Lift_User and Use_Lift. Each use-case describes a class of interaction episodes in which the user can obtain some desired result: the ATM_User can withdraw cash and perform other banking actions, and the Lift_User can travel from one floor to another. At first sight the two are closely parallel. Each episode takes place between the system—essentially what we call the machine—and the user, regarded as an external agent. Each use case is typically considered to be a requirement on the system, which must provide the desired results.

But Use_ATM and Use_Lift differ radically. Use_ATM describes a system constituent behaviour. The user is a participant, playing a role not unlike a pilot or a car driver. The user and machine engage in a close dialogue, the machine responding to each user request, sometimes by asking for further information—such as a PIN or the amount of cash desired. In Use_Lift there is no such dialogue. The user can press buttons, and enter or leave the lift at a floor, but the machine makes no response except when a button is newly pressed, when it illuminates the button and adds the corresponding floor to its set of outstanding requests. Individual users, and their comings and goings, are invisible to the system: nothing in the system behaviour corresponds to an instance of Use_Lift.

We do not consider Use_ATM to be a requirement. Rather, it is itself a behaviour design detailing the interaction between a governed world domain—the ATM_User, singled out as uniquely significant—and the rest of the system. By contrast, Use_Lift can be understood as a requirement on a constituent behaviour NLS (Normal_Lift_Service) of the lift system. It describes action sequences available to a user at a floor lobby wanting to travel to the lobby of another floor. The requirement is that users performing certain of these action sequences are enabled to achieve their desired result. There will be further requirements of the NLS behaviour—for example, concerning dwelling time at a visited floor, lift car rest position when no requests are outstanding, maximum wait times, and many more. The Use-Lift requirement is simply that the system's NLS behaviour must afford travel opportunities between floors much as the requirement on a train service is to afford travel opportunities between stations.

[1] Ivar Jacobson, Ian Spence, Kurt Bittner; USE-CASE 2.0 The Definitive Guide, 2011.

Links to other posts:
 ↑ System Behaviour Complexity: The component structure of system behaviour

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