Do you know who this guy is?
His name was Trofim Lysenko and he was the father of vernalization. He thought he could make wheat cold- and humidity tolerant by exposing it to this the same way you can learn a person tolerate pain by exposing him to it. It might seem like evolution but the difference is that evolution does not act on the current generation; it affects future generations by making the tolerant strains more common.
Lysenko make farmers plant soaked seeds in frozen lands. The result was a disaster. The yield did not triple as Lysenko had promised and instead it decreased or ceased.
This would have been the end to this story hadn’t it been for a number of sad coincidences. We are in Stalin times and land. So, even if the plan failed and people died by the millions, the practice did not only stay but grew all over the Soviet Union. It was not until the 1960’s that the Soviet Union lifted the ban on genetics and slowly started turning away from vernilization. The cost in human lives is incomprehensible but we’re talking about millions of individuals, starving to death. So, what went wrong?
Well, if we for a second ignore the guy with the huge mustache and just look at Lysenko and his crew, I would claim that the problem was not the idea. Yes, it proved wrong, but having wild ideas is not a problem. The problem was that they stuck to the plan even if it obviously did not work.
Realizing that you are wrong is often painful. Depending on your pride, it can be very painful but if you’re a sane person this pain should subside. This pain is temporary.
If you instead use the scientific approach and keep on planning, keep on evaluating, if you stay agile, you can exchange that pain with the joy of succeeding.
I don’t know if Lysenko realized that he was wrong. He died in 1976, and I find it hard to believe that he never in the deepest roots of his heart did not realize that he had been wrong. One or two of the guys on his team must have wondered, anyway. And still, it took so many decades before actions were taken.
In software development, we project managers often find ourselves in Lysenko’s shoes, having made the wrong assumption about a problem or a plan. And we need to face the fact that we were wrong. We need to meet our stakeholders explaining the new plan and the new hypothesis. The pain will not be lesser if we wait. Just look at Lysenko, how many find it OK that this continued for so long?
Hence, Pain Is Temporary, Planning lasts forever.
The saying is of course also a game with another famous saying from Lance Armstrong. The original is “Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever”. And if you stop planning, if you stop acting on changes and new input; you have quitted your responsibility. The project manager who keeps holding on to the failing plan is quitting his responsible as a manager and becomes an administrator. I guess he’s not as bad as Lysenko, but most of us aren’t working for Stalin.