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The Magic Roundabout and the importance of the Glossary

Picture of a magic roundabout ride with horses

It’s not often that printed driving directions grab my attention, yet it happened a few weeks ago.   I was planning a trip to Cardiff, and since I don’t know the area well, I decided to check out and the route online.  Although I have sat-nav, I always like to have a vague idea of where I’m going, so I print driving directions as a back-up.    I was reading through the directions, and I noticed the following step:


“Cross the Magic Roundabout, 2nd exit”


Wow – I’m going to be crossing the magic roundabout.  That sounds pretty exciting, right?  Well, maybe….


For me the phrase “Magic Roundabout” conjured up two images.  Firstly, a stop-motion animated children’s TV program from the 1970s, and secondly a rather famous and complex road junction in Swindon.  Assuming that the likelihood of this “magic roundabout” being related to the 1970s TV show was extremely low, I made the assumption that it must be a frighteningly complex junction.   You know the type – a busy junction that only locals can traverse, and visitors use at their peril.  A shudder went down my spine as I imagined having to traverse this seemingly increasingly complex junction after a long journey.


Picture of a magic roundabout ride with horses
Would it be like this?
Traffic sign: Magic Roundabout Swindon. A complex junction, with a central roundabout and many orbital roundabouts.
Or like this?











Having set this expectation very firmly in my mind, the reality was somewhat more—well—glacial. It transpired that the magic roundabout in Cardiff was rather less ‘magic’ than I had been anticipating. It was nowhere near as complex as the ‘magic roundabout’ in Swindon, which was the benchmark I had been expecting, and in many ways, given its surreal nature, it shared more in common with the 1970s TV show!  In short, it was a normal roundabout with some interesting art on it.   My presumptions and expectations had been altogether wrong.  I later passed it on foot and took a picture:

Magic Roundabout Cardiff -- A traffic roundabout with artwork made from road signs on it
The *actual* magic roundabout in Cardiff


So why does this matter?  Well, the likelihood is that your expectation of a “magic roundabout” will be different from mine – possibly quite different.    In fact, depending on where you are in the world, you might have no direct experience of roundabouts (in the context of roads) at all.  If you happen to live in Cardiff, you might know exactly what the roundabout represented.  If you don’t, you might be expecting something entirely different and more complex.


The same is true on projects.  As business analysts, we write requirements to remove ambiguity – but a glossary is such a valuable asset too.   By clearly defining terms like “magic roundabout” – or more realistically, “customer”, “company”, “division” “receipt” etc, it makes it easier to write good quality concise requirements.    It enables us to define a term once, in a central and accessible place, and helps us ensure all stakeholders and project team members remain aligned in their expectations.


In summary: A glossary helps us avoid ambiguity and ensures that everyone on our project has a common understanding of core terms.  It helps us avoid misunderstandings about our “magic roundabouts”.


What are your views? How do you make requirements less ambiguous, and how important do you think a glossary is? Please add a comment below, and if you’ve enjoyed this article please subscribe.


About the author:

Adrian Reed is Principal Consultant at Blackmetric Business Solutions, an organisation that offers Business Analysis consulting and training solutions. Adrian is a keen advocate of the analysis profession, and is constantly looking for ways of promoting the value that good analysis can bring.

To find out more about the training and consulting services offered at Blackmetric, please visit

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