Defining Use Cases And Workflow Diagrams

Sections of this topic

    Use cases and workflow diagrams are two essential practices or methodologies that will effectively demonstrate a functionality of a product. To understand their value, they have to be defined.

    Use cases are a way to show how a user, consumer, or customer can utilize, or operate a product or application.

    • It systematically details the reason for the application; how it works to achieve the end result.
    • It is not a step-by-step or itemized listing of how to accomplish a task. Use cases have to be able to answer questions such as what are the tasks that have to be done and how deep into a program does the user have to go to accomplish the task.
    • Use cases are great for helping users work through an application.

    Workflow diagrams on the other hand will display, model, or diagram a whole picture of a product or application process.

    • It can show you step-by-step how to accomplish a task. It is an image of what the product or application does as it works toward an end result.
    • It is like a road map showing you where you will end up if you take a particular route. These workflow diagrams can visually show the functionality of an application in an appealing manner. They are easier to see and understand, and are more entertaining visually than reading.
    • On an even higher scale, you can use or prototype a particular workflow diagram as a business model. The workflow diagram answers questions such as what is the scope, range, or possibilities of the application or product and what are the ‘what if’ scenarios.
    • Workflow diagrams are great for training and capturing the essential functions of an application or product.


    Use cases are critical for completing tasks or having users work with an application or learning a process. But when detailing an application or process, workflows are better for showing their behavior.

    Technical writers need to be able to distinguish the two methodologies and to know when to apply them. They need to be able to channel and harness their knowledge to create all of the above. There will be situations when both methodologies have to be applied to accomplish a task. For example, if the steps to complete a task are lengthy, then sometimes it is much better to give a good overview by first creating a use case for an example, then a workflow diagram and then maybe also include a flow chart as well listing very detailed steps that are involved. These types of situations show why it is important and valuable to know how to use the two forms of communication and to see the benefits of both methodologies.

    If you have had to design use cases or workflow diagrams, what has been your experience? Is one better than another?