What is Cognitive Engineering

Cognitive Engineering also called Cognitive Ergonomics comes from Industrial engineering. It is an Integration of Engineering, and Cognitive Ergonomics.  From the Greek words “ergon” (work) and “nomos” (science of), “Ergonomics” means the study of humans at work.

Cognitive Engineering  places particular emphasis on the analysis of cognitive processes – e.g., diagnosis, decision making and planning  It aim to enhance performance of cognitive tasks by means of several interventions, including:

  • user-centered design of human-machine interaction and human-computer interaction (HCI);
  • design of information technology systems that support cognitive tasks (e.g., cognitive artifacts);
  • development of training programs;
  • work redesign to manage cognitive workload and increase human reliability

 Like a medical scanner that provides a clear view of the inside of the human body, the cognitive approach provides and inside view of the business.  Why:The Cognitive approach permits to gather information and understand operation up to the thinking processes level.  It allows a deeper understanding of the business problems or needs. This thorough understating will be then translated into better decisions.  Overall, the Cognitive approach comprises the rigorous practice of gathering information, human information processing, analysis, business modeling, and simulation.  

Gathering information

Instead of relying only on meetings, surveys or internal documentation; information is gathered in the field with “thinking out loud” techniques while people are performing their tasks. This ensures a deeper understanding of the current situation. Even if a process is totally changed, gathering information with the cognitive approach exceeds the risks of not doing so.  

Information processing

To understand the thinking process, goals and knowledge, a Cognitive Task Analysis (CTA) is performed.  Cognitive goals, sub-goals and methods are then described hierarchically.  Methods are extracted with “how” questions, and goals are extracted with “why” questions.  At the end of the process, management will have a deep understanding of the operations, problems, and strategies. This ensures an effective way to optimize any process. Cognitive task analysis serves also as input for defining the requirements of an information system. 

Process Modeling

The business is modeled as a hierarchy of systems and processes. The highest level is the mission, followed by generic functions, specific functions and ultimately, at the most detailed level, the structural elements. The gathering techniques along with the cognitive task analysis ensure that the business model will be grounded with reality.  This provides a complete and exact picture of the operation to management. 


Before executing a plan, each risk is analyzed and addressed by simulation and calculation. For example, in information technology (IT), user acceptance is often the prime risk.  Simulating the user interface prior to writing any line of code ensures that the user and the business needs are first met. 

The application of the Cognitive Approach helps an organization to learn at a faster pace:  “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into rapid action, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” Jack Welch  

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