UML Use Case Modeling – A Little Help?

Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in some very interesting training sessions relating to business process re-engineering, and UML modeling. Now, I have long understood the value of use cases, but have never fully leveraged them or taken advantage of some of the added features inherent in tools designed specifically for UML modeling. In my experience, for the fully-dressed use case, I typically just use a MS Word template with tables. For the diagrams, I just use the UML functionality inherent in Visio.

Now that I’ve sat through some of the training, and gotten a quick peek at some of the tools available, I wanted to appeal to my audience here for some guidance regarding modeling tools.

I’ve dabbled a bit with Enterprise Architect (I’ve downloaded the trial). It seems pretty complete and it very reasonably priced. I downloaded StarUML a couple days back and began playing with it a bit. The best thing about StarUML is that it is open source (free!). It doesn’t seem quite as user-friendly as EA, but you can’t argue with the price. There also seem to be some add-on features for it that might make it more appealing. I’ve also looked at ArgoUML in the past, and it is ok. It doesn’t appear to be up to UML 2 standards yet, though.

Other than that, there are, of course, the Rational and Borland tools which are great, but are probably overkill – especially in terms of price – for what we’re doing.

Honestly, I’d be fine with what MS Visio offers if I could just figure out a way to print use case diagrams with the accompanying text attributes. I haven’t been able to figure out for the life of me how to get that to work, though.

I’m not asking for much, either. Basically, all I need is a tool that allows you to:

  • Output to Word or PDF
  • Output the diagrams AND accompanying text (i.e., main success path, preconditions, postconditions, goal, etc.) in a usable/readable form.
  • Create links and relationships between use cases across an entire system.
  • Cost efficient – we’re not hardcore. We just want something that meets the basic requirements above.
  • This is gravy, but it would be great if version control were built into the tool.

So, can you help a fella out? What UML modeling tool(s) do you prefer? I’ll be glad to hear your comments and words of experience/advice.

About the Author

Jonathan Babcock is a management and IT consultant with expertise in business analysis, process optimization and solution delivery methodology. Practical Analyst is his outlet for sharing what he’s learned, and for interacting with solution delivery professionals across the globe.

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10 Comments

  1. I’ve been using Enterprise Architect for a year or two and as you say, it does a thorough job at a very reasonable cost.

    One significant advantage that EA has over using Visio with Word, is the ability to collaborate on models with colleagues, thus promoting sharing and reuse of information. The main drawback I find is that the template editor (used for configuring RTF reports) is a little fiddly. It is worth the effort though and allows you to output the same information in different formats to different documents.

    For use cases, EA allows basic flow and alternate specs to be added to the properties of the use case itself (on the scenarios tab). The text box is a little restrictive, so for complex use cases, setting up a ‘linked document’ is preferable. Linked documents open in an MS Word window in EA itself.

  2. Good stuff, Robert. Thanks for commenting. I like EA from the little I’ve used it. It appears to output nice docs, too.

    Given the price, I’d consider buying for my own use even if we don’t adopt it in our “shop”.

  3. Thanks for the tip, Craig. I’ll definitely check out the discussion on the free RM tools.

    I’ve looked at a couple open source RM tools myself, and found some to be fairly good – especially for a smaller operation, or if you’re just trying to get your feet wet before spending a ton on software from a major player.

  4. I’ve used Rational for years, but I started using StarUML when the company I worked for wouldn’t pay the license. The auto documentation generation capabilities are really nice and probably make up for some of the clunkyness.
    I find Visio really annoying (though it does make pretty diagrams). The fact is, it’s a drawing tool, the constraints they tried to apply to the UML templates to enforce integrity across the model tend to get in the way a lot. (Not to mention it’s not free either)

  5. A lot of nice ideas in this thread.

    I take it, however, that there really is NO way to capture for easy review and transfer to different types of documents the UML documentation and properties that MS Visio (2007) allows you to enter.

    If anyone has discovered a way to do this please share it.

  6. I find Visio so cumbersome, (even after wrestling with it for a couple of years), that you loose the thread of what you are trying to document. I think a UML tool should allow for quick brainstorming of ideas, which can then be used to promote discussion. Now I’ve got my standard set of icons, its better, but I still loose that moment of insperation when I need to branch off to find some icon I”ve not used for a while. I personally use NovaGraph Chartist, as its cheap and very quick to bang out quite detailed diagrams. I usually then copy the lot inot a jpeg, and paste it into whatever word doc I need to produce. Give it a go, its cheap and cheerful. http://www.novagraph.com

  7. Matt, thanks for chiming in, and no worries on "sounding like" advertising. I want to learn what I can about all the types of tools that are available. I've heard good things about CaseComplete, but have never used it myself. I may take a look at your trial, though.

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