When does continually adding 'Planned Downtime'

.. mean that there isn't any realistic plan in the first place?

Didn't find your answer?

Yup ... it's that ole lonesome MTD for ITSA Blues once again - this time brought on by receiving yet another notice from HMRC about additional 'Planned Downtime' for the jokingly called 'service availability'.

I guess in their eyes it's 'just a Pilot' (albeit if you're silly enough to have signed up for it you'll know there's no allowed exit and the only aspect they have fully defined is the Penalty regime).

But the latest notice caused me to take a few minutes to review my archive of HMRC notifications (which I maintain because they delete them from GOV.UK within days of publishing them) ... and, filtering for "Making Tax Digital for Income Tax: service availability and issues", I found 10 of them issued in the last 15 weeks:

- Planned downtime from 5pm on Friday 16 February 2024 to 9am on Monday 19 February 2024 has been added.  [Time updated: 2:29pm, 1 February 2024]

- Planned downtime from 5pm on Friday 23 February 2024 to 9am Monday 26 February 2024 has been added.  [Time updated: 12:39pm, 5 February 2024]

- Planned downtime from 5pm on Friday 8 March 2024 to 9am Monday 11 March 2024 has been added.  [Time updated: 5:18pm, 26 February 2024]

- Planned downtime from 5:30pm to 7:15pm on Saturday 16 March 2024 has been added.  [Time updated: 11:17am, 4 March 2024]

- Planned downtime from 5pm on Friday 12 April 2024 to midday Tuesday 16 April 2024 has been added.  [Time updated: 5:17pm, 25 March 2024]

- This service will be unavailable from 5pm on Tuesday 16 April to midday on Wednesday 17 April 2024.  [Time updated: 5:28pm, 16 April 2024]

- The service unavailability from 5pm on Tuesday 16 April to midday on Wednesday 17 April 2024 has been extended to midday Thursday 18 April 2024.  [Time updated: 2:17pm, 17 April 2024]

- Planned downtime from 6:30pm to 8pm on Saturday 11 May 2024 has been added.  [Time updated: 9:04am, 1 May 2024]

- Planned downtime from 5pm on Friday 14 June 2024 to 12pm on Tuesday 18 June 2024 has been added.  [Time updated: 11:30am, 15 May 2024]

- Planned downtime from 5pm on Friday 21 June 2024 to 9am Monday 24 June 2024 has been added.  [Time updated: 11:23am, 17 May 2024]


That's a total of almost 21 days (in sporadic bursts) of unavailability over that period of 15 weeks .. leading me to a choice of conclusions:

? They have a fully detailed plan for all maintenance/upgrade work, but have chosen not to share it with any users (prefering to issue easy-to-miss emails, often with only a day's notice); OR

? They only have a not very detailed plan (aka more of a hope really), and have to add extra dates of 'planned' downtime every week or so (as and when they discover the next thing that should have been in a plan); OR

? They're still trying to agree the definition of 'Plan' (a parallel working group to the one who were tasked with defining 'Specification' - not to be confused with the group who, when membership has been sorted, will be asked to retrospectively come up with the actual Specification for developers).


Any reasonable sized project with which I've been involved in the past (whether private or public sector, and whatever my role within it) would have imposed an emergency freeze / review after just 3 of these revisions of plan ... as an obvious sign of incipient failure.  Not necessarily in order to immediately kill it, but so as to quickly identify *what* is going wrong before it becomes self-defeating - and, where possible, agree changes (whether to objectives, specific details, resources or whatever) that could get it back on track.

Instead what we appear to have is a runaway train that hasn't seen any track for quite some time, with the driver shouting 'too big to fail' and the only productive staff employed to explain how it's all going nicely to plan (so long as no-one questions what 'it' is or wants to see the plan, let alone any performance metrics).


I don't give a hoot for politics, but the sooner we have a GE the better ... so that one lot or another of politicians realise that the crash is going to occur on *their* watch - and do something a bit more practical than sticking fingers in their ears and investing in Nelsonian eye-patches.  Time is running out for those without a plan.

Replies (14)

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By Paul Crowley
21st May 2024 02:47

Planned downtime......suggests lots of flaws need to be fixed.
Good job that it is 'agile'.

Thanks (3)
By Tax Dragon
21st May 2024 06:17

On OP's question, 'planned' probably means 'intentional', 'deliberate' or similar.

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Replying to Tax Dragon:
By FactChecker
21st May 2024 13:06

hmm ... so evasive action you take when driving a car, in the emergency situation where the car in front has just bounced off the centre rail back across two lanes of traffic, is 'planned'?

If you'd known even a minute or so earlier what you would be faced with, then your action would have been more planned (and less purely reactive) - if of course you're a competent driver*.
[* = which to me is one who is always alert to the possibility of crass stupidity by other drivers and so has a permanent option to avoid their actions.]

Without belabouring the point - all the same factors apply when 'driving' a major project. Except at HMRC, where the lack of realistic plans and contingency options is only exaggerated by the determination to 'keep going' despite having run out of road and the lack of any road-signs or satnav.

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Replying to FactChecker:
By Tax Dragon
21st May 2024 14:19

On the other hand, I'd rather they tested the software, even on live guineapigs, than deliver another Horizon.

What I don't understand is the idea of penalising the guineapigs.

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By Jason Croke
21st May 2024 07:26

And why is this planned downtime not taking place at midnight when there are the fewest users?

But agree with OPs sentiment, that is an awful lot of downtime over a short period of time, almost like the first version wasn't fit for purpose, or the second or the third version or the twentieth.

I think the phrase, "you can't polish a [***]" springs to mind and that phrase applies to the software and HMRC itself.

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Replying to Jason Croke:
By WinterDragon
21st May 2024 14:31

Jason Croke wrote:

And why is this planned downtime not taking place at midnight when there are the fewest users?

I'm guessing that the reason for this has to do with having developers able to respond quickly if something were to go wrong and the added cost of paying developers through the night.

The PC games platform Steam goes down every Tuesday around 10pm for 30 ish minutes for planned maintenance. I have no major complaints about Steam's servers and they have functioned well for the 13 years I've been using the platform. I think they avoid the biggest peak of 12pm PT but by doing it at 2-3pm PT they have plenty of staff available to do any maintenance as quickly as possible.

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By D V Fields
21st May 2024 09:31

Planned downtime is probably an active (or planned) decision to take the system down because of an unexpected maintenance issue. Quite different from "planned maintenance" when the system is taken down for some routine maintenance that is being done, in theory at least, to minimize the "unplanned" planned downtime having to occur. It's HMRC - what did you really expect?

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Replying to D V Fields:
By FactChecker
21st May 2024 13:10

Indeed, I expected no more.
And your interpretation is probably correct (as in 'planned downtime' = the better option than letting it simply crash into the buffers) - but that doesn't paint the frequency of downtime in a better light, does it?

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paddle steamer
21st May 2024 09:48

Maybe some planned obsolescence is required .

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
21st May 2024 10:02

I doubt any of the developers care so long as they get paid handsomly to bodge up something that will never see the light of day, so no-one cares if it works or not.

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By SteveHa
21st May 2024 10:39

We don't get context with HMRC emails. They could discover a problem, and "plan" to fix it tomorrow, resulting in downtime. Does that qualify as planned downtime?

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Replying to SteveHa:
By FactChecker
21st May 2024 13:19

As per my response to TD above, I guess that's how they're deliberately mis-using the word.

But using a different analogy, if you're rushed by ambulance to A&E with a severely broken leg (bits of bone sticking out of your skin) then one would hope they will quickly formulate a plan for your treatment - reacting to an emergency but with trained professionals who know the parameters available.

However that isn't a 'planned operation' (no-one - patient, staff or hospital - was aware what would happen 1/2 hour ago).

Mind you ... if you're suggesting that in HMRC's eyes any reaction to today's crisis that involves procrastination must mean any action tomorrow was 'planned', then they stand at the pinnacle of the podium!

Thanks (3)
By FactChecker
21st May 2024 13:48


Today's notification emails include one on the arcane topic of "HMRC major projects: appointment letters for Senior Responsible Owners" - as part of their commitment to transparency. But I notice that this is the 2nd update in a week:

"13 May 2024
The Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) appointment letter for the Data Protection Remediation Programme has been removed as this is no longer a Government Major Projects Portfolio (GMPP)."

"20 May 2024
Removed Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) appointment letters for the Enterprise Security Programme and the Critical Platform Transformation (both replaced by Technical Health Programme), and also the Securing our Technical Future programme and Our Future CDIO Programme (both have left the Government Major Projects Portfolio process)."

That does sound like a major removal of focus from key aspects (Enterprise security / Platform transformation / Securing the technical future / etc) that really should matter to HMRC generally - but in particular ahead of any further rollout of MTD.

Do they know something?

Thanks (3)
By FactChecker
11th Jun 2024 14:01

BAU update:
at least the HMRC version of Business As Usual (which means more downtime of their live system - nevertheless describing it as merely 'extending Planned Maintenance') ...

- Planned downtime from 5pm on Friday 21 June 2024 to 9am Monday 24 June 2024 has been extended to Friday 21 June 2024 5pm to 5pm Monday 24 June 2024.

So just one additional day of downtime ... nothing to see here, move along please ...

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