How to Create Use Scenarios that Lead to Better Products

Use scenarios are stories that walk through how—and why—your users are using your products or services. Use scenarios provide context. With them, your team better understands who your users are, what problems they are trying to solve and how you can help. 

Use scenarios keep everyone on your team—designers, developers, analysts, product owners and testers—focused on the ultimate goal. That’s creating products, services and solutions that delight your user. Use scenarios start with research, so you understand who your users are and where they face challenges. From there, you can delve into their desired outcomes and goals.

It’s not easy to develop use scenarios and the personas that represent your users. But the effort can help your business prosper. A good use scenario is like having your top customer take you by the hand and say, “Look, this is why I need your product, and this is exactly how I use it to reach my goals.” When you know why and how your user is using your product, you can spot pain points and make improvements they might not even know to request.

What are use scenarios?

Answering user questions

Use scenarios are stories that outline the question, “What is the user attempting to accomplish?” They typically use a user persona—a composite character who represents a group of your customers who share similar characteristics—to personify the user. The use scenario takes one or more of your persona’s requirements and expands it into a real-life story.

A use scenario focuses on the user. It explains the customer experience from start to finish. It uses specific, concrete statements to outline the steps the persona takes. It walks through the persona’s process as they use your product or service to achieve their goal.

Use scenarios typically include these components in the story or narrative:

  • Your persona
  • The environment where your persona uses your product or service
  • What they want to achieve
  • The steps they are taking to achieve their goal
  • The choices they need to make along the way

A use scenario doesn’t get deep into design or details. And it doesn’t mandate solutions. It outlines what your persona needs or wants in a relatable story. From there, your designers and developers can talk about the persona and the use scenario and brainstorm solutions.

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What is the user attempting to accomplish?”

Why use scenarios matter

Use scenarios are essential for many different reasons:
  • They bring your users and their problems to light in a relatable, understandable way.
  • They provide context—they help designers and developers understand what motivates personas and what obstacles they are facing.
  • They help data analysts learn what questions to ask.
  • They create shared responsibility for the user experience.
  • They give product owners more accurate information.
  • They help your team come up with new ideas and solutions.
  • They show you where to focus your usability testing and allow you to test realistic scenarios.
  • They show the needs your persona has that might not be apparent in the confines of your workspace.
  • They help you develop better products for users.

Who owns the development of use scenarios?

Product managers take the lead when it comes to developing use scenarios. But they should involve stakeholders from many aspects of the business—designers and developers, data analysts, the executive team, sales and more. Bringing more points of view and information to the use scenarios can make them stronger and home in on what your personas need and where they hit roadblocks.

You also should remember that, just like your users, your personas aren’t static—they evolve. Product managers and other team members should examine and redefine personas to keep them relevant and to make sure you’re focusing on them appropriately.

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They bring your users and their problems to light in a relatable, understandable way.

How to craft use scenarios

To create a use scenario, start by researching your users. You can study and interview them so you know what they need and what struggles they face. For example, an online retailer might examine how often customers place items in a cart without completing the purchase. 

Testing cart conversion

You can also survey them to identify patterns. For example, a travel company might ask users how often they travel, how long their trips last and how they choose their destination.

Once you understand who your users are, you can create personas to represent them. What are their goals? What steps are they taking to reach those goals? How and where will they use your product, and what struggles do they face? What do they expect? How does their company measure their performance? What would it take for them to have a great day, week or quarter?

You want to answer who, what, where, when and why to create your use scenarios. A good use scenario is written so all of your stakeholders—even non-technical people—can understand it.

A strong use scenario will describe the persona with details such as:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Marital/family status
  • Occupation
  • Location

You may want to include a photo that represents your persona.

Depending on your product or service, you might want to include other descriptors relevant to your business. Those could be factors such as computer and phone usage, app usage, commute time, food purchasing habits, TV viewing, etc.

You want to include the obstacles your persona faces and the ways they might use your product or service. Outline their situation and put it together in a brief story to craft your use scenario. Keep the focus on your user.

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Examples of use scenarios

You might have multiple use scenarios for the same product or service. For example, an online grocer may have use scenarios centered around:

  • A college student without access to transportation who values low prices and shelf-stable products.
  • Busy families who are looking for time savings and healthy, easy-to-prepare meals that include leftovers.
  • Single seniors who want to avoid crowds and are looking for simple, individual meals.

These personas are all using the same product—online grocery delivery—but their descriptions, motivations, goals, etc., are all different.

Here’s an example of a use scenario for busy families.

Shopping for Groceries

  • Name: Sam Shopper
  • Age: 36
  • Gender: Female
  • Marital/family status: Married, two children
  • Occupation: Mid-level marketing manager—online on a desktop computer 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. most weekdays
  • Location: Jacksonville, Florida
  • Wants to serve healthy meals to her family at home; doesn’t have a lot of time or interest in in-person grocery shopping

It’s Monday, and it’s Sam’s turn to shop for her family: partner Taylor and their two school-age children. She has meetings throughout the day and doesn’t have time to go to the store before dinner. She would rather not turn to fast food, but she needs groceries for the evening and the rest of the week.

On her lunch hour, Sam logs into her online grocery account, selects the items she needs for the week and adds them to her cart, chooses a delivery time and enters her payment information. The groceries arrive later that afternoon, and she and her family put them away and prepare their dinner.

The use scenario doesn’t get into the specifics of Sam’s process. Maybe she shops from a previous list, the store’s departments, a paper list she created, or what’s on sale. Perhaps she settles for a less-desirable delivery time or pays extra for faster delivery. Maybe she pays with a credit card that gives her rewards points or cash back for grocery purchases. These are all factors your team can evaluate as you look for ways to improve your product or service and delight Sam.

Learn more about use scenarios

When you understand use scenarios, you understand your users. And you and your team can use that information to brainstorm ideas and develop new or improved products and services that delight your user. Learn more about crafting use scenarios that lead to better products and services and more satisfied customers in Pragmatic Institute’s Build course today.

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