Cognitive Work Analysis: Toward Safe, Productive, and Healthy Computer-Based Work

By Kim J. Vicente | Go to book overview

Black ( 1990). But to do this, software designers need to explicitly investigate the characteristics of the work they are designing for so that they can develop computer tools to support the end users of their products.


Summary

Hovde 's ( 1990) field study of information systems in hospitals, and Black ( 1990) study of desktop-publishing software both show the perils of ignoring work analysis. The lesson is that a work analysis must be conducted if there is to be a good fit between the support provided by the information system and the work demands. Only then can we achieve the situation depicted in Fig. 2.1b rather than that depicted in Fig. 2.1a.


WHERE SHOULD THE WORK ANALYSIS BEGIN?

Work Demands = Cognitive Constraints + Environment Constraints

Although work analysis is not appreciated or practiced by many information system designers, it is readily accepted in the behavioral design disciplines, such as human factors and HCI. Nevertheless, we show in this section that there is a lack of consensus on where the work analysis should begin. At the risk of greatly oversimplifying matters, we can divide the concept of work demands discussed in the previous section into two subsets, cognitive constraints and environment constraints.3Cognitive constraints are work demands that originate with the human cognitive system. For example, workers' subjective preferences and current mental models place cognitive constraints on work. In contrast, environment constraints are work demands that originate with the context in which workers are situated. For example, the physical and social reality that serve as the context for workers' behaviors are environmental constraints because they exist independently of what any one worker might think.4

The concept of environment constraints may be less familiar, so we give several examples. For instance, engineers working on a collaborative design project must take into account the intentions and actions of other engineers, otherwise their efforts will not be coordinated and the project goals will be compromised. Similarly, airline pilots must take into account the positions of other aircraft and the terrain if they are to achieve their goals. Also, the decisions made by a financial analyst must take

____________________
3
The dualistic distinction between cognitive and environment constraints is useful for the pedagogical purposes of this chapter. However, on close theoretical scrutiny, the distinction does not hold up because it is impossible to meaningfully consider actors and environments separately from each other ( Dewey & Bentley, 1949). We address this conceptual problem in detail in subsequent chapters by showing how cognitive and environmental constraints can be seamlessly integrated into a unified framework for CWA.
4
Note that the environment to which we are referring is different from that described in chapter 1 and depicted in Fig. 1.1. There, we described the environment for a sociotechnical system (i.e., the forces outside of that system). Here, we are describing the environment for a worker (i.e., the forces outside of that worker). The difference between these two frames of reference can be implicitly seen by comparing Fig. 1.1 with Fig. 2.6. The environment depicted in Fig. 2.6 includes all of the factors outside of the workers subsystem in Fig. 1.1.

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