About Johanna Rothman

Johanna consults, speaks, and writes about managing product development. She helps managers and leaders do reasonable things that work. You can read more of her writings at jrothman.com.

Bumping Into Manager Rules

You might have met a manager on a bad manager day. Equally as frustrating is when you work for a manager who has rules about problem solving. I once worked for a manager who proudly said to me, “Don’t bring me a problem without bringing me a solution.” I blinked once and said, “Why would I bring you a problem I could solve?” He stopped, and said, “Ooh.” Some of you will recognize that as the programmer’s refrain. “Oooh,” is what you say when you realize the computer has done something you told it to do, but is not what you meant it to do. “Don’t bring me a problem without bringing me a solution” is an example of management incongruence. Not because a manager means to be. But because a manager might not know better. My manager wanted to challenge me. Believe me, I was challenged! I wasn’t being lazy. I wasn’t being stupid. I was stuck. I needed help. I didn’t know where to go for help.

Even in agile teams, the manager might be the right person to go to. The manager might not be. The manager might not have the answer. But the manager might be the right person to free the impediment, to know who has the answer, or to help with problem-solving. This is why when managers have rules about problem solving, they make life difficult for everyone else. Managers don’t have to be perfect. They have to work work hard at staying congruent, which is different than being perfect. Much different than being perfect.


This is a picture of what I mean by congruence. When the manager takes him or herself, the other person, and the context into account, the manager is congruent. When the manager stops taking the other person into account, the manager blames the other person. When you bump into manager rules such as “Don’t bring me a problem without a solution,” your manager is blaming you for not having a solution. When the manager stops taking him/herself into account, the manager placates. Managers who say, “Yes,” to all work and never say No and don’t manage the project portfolio placate the rest of the organization.

Managers who ignore both themselves and the other person are super-reasonable. Remember Ever Have a Bad Manager Day? I was being super-reasonable, ignoring me and the other person and the fact that we were human. Hah! That didn’t last long. There are are other incongruent stances, but those are the big three. Does this mean managers can’t be human? Oh, no, they sure can be, and are! And, they need to watch out for these rules that make them less effective. Incongruent stances do not help managers manage. Incongruent stances and rules make it more difficult for managers to do a great job. If you would like to read more about bumping into manager rules, take a look at my next myth, Management Myth 14: I Must Always Have a Solution to the Problem. Let me know if you like my suggestions.

Reference: Bumping Into Manager Rules from our JCG partner Johanna Rothman at the Managing Product Development blog.

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One Response to "Bumping Into Manager Rules"

  1. Dainius Figoras says:

    “Don’t bring me a problem without bringing me a solution” isn’t that bad, it just your interpretation about it is negative. What it means is that you should think about problem before going, you are expert in this area, that’s why he hires you. If you don’t know something, that other programmers know, go that programmer and talk, if you can’t go because of some rules, than you go the manager and say, I have a problem, to solve I need to talk with Jhon, could you arrange that? Or “I can’t make page load faster, for that we need new hardware”. But if you go and say “I don’t know how to send images faster to service endpoint, what I need to do”? Than you aren’t worth to team so much (I would think opposite as you are writing articles).

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