Ambiguous Requirements in the Simplest Places (and how to fix it)


Below is a photo from New Mongolian BBQ, a favorite dinner place for the family.  This is a really interesting example of an ambiguous requirement as demonstrated by an ambiguous API.  As part of the instructions at the start of the line, a patron is suggested to use two bowls – one for meat, and one for vegetables.

IMG_20150201_184436When the patron gets to the end of the line for the their Mongolian to be cooked and they are presented with this spot for two sets of waiting customers.  The first question that comes to mind is I have two bowls.

The two immediate options that I see for what this means is

  • Customers front and back, bowl 1 and bowl 2.
  • Customer 1 and customer 2

Judging from the customers choosing randomly from the two options above.  I generally opt for bowl 1/bowl 2 if there aren’t any bowls already up when I arrive.

So how do we take the ambiguous requirement and make it mostly obvious to most patrons?  My suggestion would be to place a thick line to separate the two customer spots.  This would rely on human nature to want to have their bundled things bundled together.  If you look carefully at the picture, this might be the intent since there is already a slightly larger gap between the front and back.

Any other suggestions on how to resolve this ambiguous requirement?  Any similar simple but confounding ambiguous requirements issues that you have found?  Post a comment below.

2 Responses to Ambiguous Requirements in the Simplest Places (and how to fix it)

  1. Dan Radigan says:

    This one made me smile as this restaurant has been a favorite of mine since the days of Colonel Lee’s Mongolian BBQ. A natural question to ask though, is this a problem worth fixing? Using the implementation they have as a MVP, they can then get feedback. If the BBQ steward keeps getting mixed input then it makes sense spending design and engineering time fixing the issue. If not, then it may work well as is.

    • Ironically, about 2 weeks later, they had actually gone with a horizontal line to split front and back. I wonder if they read the blog :). I’ve got the photo and will do a follow up.

      A further 2 weeks later, all numbers are gone. I assume it’s the oils erasing the sharpie pen.

      And yes, when they get busy, there is continual sign language pointing left/right or front/back to bring the two food bowls together.

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