The New Equipment is Here, Now Comes the Hard Part: Cognitive and Sociotechnical Challenges in Network-Enabled Mission Command

Report No. ARL-TR-8322
Authors: John K Hawley; Michael W Swehla
Date/Pages: March 2018; 40 pages
Abstract: The distinguished cognitive scientist and design consultant Donald Norman writes that managing complexity is a partnership: Designers have to produce things that tame complexity, and users have to take the time to learn the skills associated with their use. This report describes the consequences of failure to manage complexity during the introduction of new mission-command equipment suites to tactical US Army units. The challenge facing developers and users of such systems is to address Norman's twin objectives of 1) taming the complexity associated with equipment design and 2) properly preparing individuals, crews, teams, and units to employ those complex systems. Anticipated levels of system performance can be achieved, but only if complexity is managed and modernized systems are "understandable, sensible, and meaningful" to their user populations. That is where the "hard part" in this report's title comes into play. This research looks at current Army modernization efforts through the lens of sociotechnical systems theory. A sociotechnical system is a work setting consisting of people in interaction with a technology suite intended to accomplish a specific organizational function. In the present case, that work setting is a command post and the organizational function is network-enabled mission command.
Distribution: Approved for public release
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Last Update / Reviewed: March 1, 2018