Management Myth 14: I Must Always Have a Solution to the Problem

[article]
Summary:

Some managers have rules about problems. Some managers think they should be able to have an answer to every problem. While you don't have to know the answers, being an effective and competent manager means that you can facilitate a way to get to the answers.

Janet hesitated before going down the hall to David’s office. She turned around and sat back down and sighed. Steve stopped by her cubicle and said, “What’s wrong?”

“I have this problem and I need to ask David a question. I’m really stumped. But he’s going to tell me, ‘Don’t bring me a problem without a solution.’ Like that’s a helpful answer. Why would I go to him if I had a solution?”

Steve asked, “What have you done?”

“I made this matrix of potential solutions, see? I tried these combinations. None of them work. I tried these things. Nothing works. I asked Tranh for help. He’s stuck.”

“No, he’s stuck? He’s the expert!”

“I know. If he’s stuck and I’m stuck, I don’t know what we’re going to do. I’ve tried the Rule of Three. We really need help. David is the last one who worked on that code before he became a manager. It’s so darn clever, I don’t understand it.”

“Janet, this is serious. We need to address this problem. This could put the entire release in jeopardy.”

“You’re telling me? But David is going to give me some stupid remark about how it’s my problem now or how I shouldn’t bring him a problem without a solution, and then he’s going to blame me for his stupid code. If he wasn’t so set on being clever back when he was a developer, maybe I could understand his code. But he didn’t write any tests. I’ve been writing unit tests, and I can’t get any of them to pass. This is all fubar.”

Steve thought for a minute. “Okay, we need to go meta on this.”

“Go meta?”

“Yes, the problem isn’t the problem. It’s your reaction to the problem.”

“Now it’s my reaction? You’re going to blame me for his code?” Janet was incredulous.

“Okay, hold on a minute,” Steve said. “You’re being reasonable. But you’re ready for David to be unhelpful, and you’re stressed and you need help, right?”

“Yes.”

“You need help on this problem, right?”

“Yes.”

“So, you’ve tried the standard operating procedure of writing unit tests, and they haven’t worked. You’ve tried experimenting six ways from Sunday and that hasn’t worked. You need other help, such as old-style reviews, right? And we don’t have time for that built into the iteration, right?”

“Yeah,” Janet said slowly, “I’m beginning to see what you mean. Start providing him some other options and then let him take it from there.”

Steve nodded. “Right. He’s not stupid or a jerk, but he is kind of defensive about his old code. And, you nailed it when you said he hates it when we don’t bring him some alternatives. So, let’s think of some.”

Janet smiled and said, “I’m really glad you stopped by.”

User Comments

1 comment
allen OLSON's picture
allen OLSON

Johanna:

As always you hit the nail on the head with your article. I have always been impressed with the way you take a common sense approach to management I only wish more managers practiced what you preach.

February 22, 2013 - 2:30pm

About the author

Johanna Rothman's picture Johanna Rothman

Johanna Rothman, known as the “Pragmatic Manager,” helps organizational leaders see problems and risks in their product development. She helps them recognize potential “gotchas,” seize opportunities, and remove impediments. Johanna was the Agile 2009 conference chair. She is the technical editor for Agile Connection and the author of these books:

  • Manage Your Job Search
  • Hiring Geeks That Fit
  • Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects
  • The 2008 Jolt Productivity award-winning Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management
  • Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management
  • Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People

Johanna is working on a book about agile program management. She writes columns for Stickyminds.com and projectmanagementcom and blogs on her website, jrothman.com, as well on createadaptablelife.com.

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