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What is a pre-condition in a system use case specification?

Posted by Chris Adams

Article Rating // 17582 Views // 2 Additional Answers & Comments


A system use case pre-condition is a given state known to the system, that must always be true in order for use case execution to begin. For example, a use case for making online payments might have the following pre-condition: “The customer order is complete” (for a retail system) or “A course registration is submitted” (for an education or training system)

A pre-condition is valid only if it is true before the start of every possible flow within the use case. Something that is necessary for one flow but not another would not be a use case pre-condition.
What is a pre-condition not?

A pre-condition is not the action that invokes or triggers a use case. Using the online payment example, it would not be valid to include a pre-condition that ‘The Actor chooses to make an online payment’. Instead, initiating or invoking actions should be described at the beginning of each use case flow.

A pre-condition is not something that occurs outside the system (for a system use case). Receipt of a document is not a pre-condition for a system, unless of course the system is being designed to electronically receive that document. A pre-condition describes only something that is known to or detected by the system.

A pre-condition is not something that occurs inside the Actor’s head. A pre-condition should never be stated as ‘The Actor wishes to…’. I have not yet seen an IT system that is able to read minds – although if someone does create one, it will certainly make requirements elicitation much easier! This rule holds true for describing how a use case flow is initiated or invoked as well – never by an Actor’s wishes or intentions; only by an Actor’s actions.

Tips: Use present tense when writing pre-conditions (something “is”, rather than something “has been”). Word pre-conditions to describe the state that must be present, and avoid redundant terms like “--- exists”. The pre-condition describes a state that the system must be able to detect, which also means that it must inherently exist. In the online payment example, the focus is on the state (‘complete’) and the object (‘customer order’).

Sandy Lambert
Business Architect
LinkedIn Profile



Elpee posted on Friday, October 18, 2013 8:37 AM
Example: Writing a use case for a customer's ability to change their home address in their account....say.. on an On-Line retailers website for instance. The Use case can be titled

UC 1.0 'Customer edits home address''
Summary: Customer wishes to edit their home address
Pre-condition: Customer is registered on Site and logged Into their account.
Trigger ( optional )
Primary Scenario
Alternative scenario ( If any)

For a customer to be able to edit their home address....the pre-codntion is: 'they must be a registered customer on the site'......This is the pre-condition.
Sandy posted on Thursday, November 14, 2013 10:34 AM
This is a great example of a very typical pre-condition. Thanks for sharing.
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Do your homework prior to the business analysis interview!

Having an idea of the type of questions you might be asked during a business analyst interview will not only give you confidence but it will also help you to formulate your thoughts and to be better prepared to answer the interview questions you might get during the interview for a business analyst position.  Of course, just memorizing a list of business analyst interview questions will not make you a great business analyst but it might just help you get that next job.



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