[rfc-i] The RFC Series Manager

John C Klensin john+rfc at jck.com
Thu Jan 22 17:13:11 PST 2009

--On Wed, 21 Jan 2009 22:46:33 +0100 Olaf Kolkman
<olaf at NLnetLabs.nl> wrote:

> I think that everybody agrees that the RSE has a role in
> coordinating,   identifying the issues where the noses need to
> be set in the same   direction and then call upon the actors
> to make progress to that   direction. The main question is in
> the ultimate control the RSE has   doing this: can she hire or
> fire?
> My approach route in this, and I think various others too, has
> been:         - No authority to hire and fire.

Olaf, the combination of your note and two other conversations
I've had in the last 24 hours (at least one of which is largely
unrelated), I think I have a different way to explain why I'm
having a problem with this particular authority question.

I do not believe that a "Board" --whether it is the IAB or
IAOC-- can assume line management responsibility for anything.
It just doesn't work.  It is especially unlikely to work when
the membership of those Boards consist largely of volunteers who
have to focus much of their attention elsewhere, whether to
other activities/ responsibilities of the Boards or to "day job"

Ignoring, for the purposes of this note,  the independent
submission side of the story --while the Model and RFI spend
considerable text on it, it is really just a matter of how one
of the streams is managed, no different in that regard from the
other three streams-- the Model assumes that there are three
elements of the process of getting a document from "approved by
a stream" to "published".  While the Model omits them, there are
all sorts of possible feedback and iteration loops among those
three and between some of them and stream-approvers and/or
authors and editors.  Unless you rewrite job and task
descriptions to require far more subject matter expertise in the
Production House than I read the documents as anticipating
today, it is almost inevitable that the RSE will get drawn into
those discussions of, e.g., whether a particular document is
editorially coherent enough to be understandable technically or,
put differently, what level of investment is appropriate to
resolve perceived difficulties with a particular document.  

Perhaps the IAB wants to guarantee its availability and
responsiveness to deal with each such question as it arises, but
I don't think that would be either a good use of the IAB's time
or a good match to its skill-set.   If the IAB wants to stick to
policy and broad oversight, then you are not going to be
involved in anything on a document-by-document basis except in
truly unusual situations.

You can take the above paragraph and substitute "IAOC" for "IAB"
for any administrative, formatting, presentation, or
coordination issues.  The problem is much the same with regard
to the difference between issues with individual documents and
high-level policy/ strategy issues... and the community has a
recent worked case about how rapidly the IAOC can respond to a
crisis that convinces me, at least, that the IAOC should not
ever be in the critical path of getting a given document out.

I think that, given this, it is inevitable that there will be
one function in the system that the Model doesn't really
identify as such.   For consistency with other terminology in
the Model and RFI, I'll refer to that function as the "RFC
Series Manager" -- the individual or function who has the
authority to resolve minor issues when the other parties
disagree, to put pressure on contractual relationships, etc.
You can attach whatever level of oversight to that position you
like, but the bottom line is that the person holding it needs
the authority to make and enforce decisions without, e.g.,
waiting around for a couple of IAOC and/or IAB teleconferences
with the risk that the publication process will grind to a halt
during the wait.

The question then becomes "who is the RFC Series Manager"?  In
trying to sort out authority to match responsibilities and
discussing terminology like "Executive Management
Responsibility", many of us have assumed that it should be the
RSE.  When I read your comments about hiring and firing, I think
you have concluded that it should not be... although we may just
be confusing each other with choices of terminology.

Under any normal circumstances, the RSM role, no matter how and
where it is assigned, depends far more on respect from all
actors for the professional and technical knowledge and
experience of the person holding the role than it does on the
authority to exercise power.  That is another reason why some of
us believe that the RSM and RSE roles should be bound together.
At the same time, it is important, perhaps essential, that it is
clear where the authority lies if the persuasion, mediation, and
cat-herding, fail and that is a key element of the RSM role,
again at least unless the IAB and/or IAOC are, as a group, going
to take on line management responsibilities.

However, if the RSE isn't also the RSM, then either:

	(1) You need to figure out how to appoint the RSM,
	presumably as an Executive Management position for which
	the appropriate mechanisms are formal searches and
	retained search firms, not an IAB appointment mechanism
	designed to find volunteers from the IETF community.
	(2) You decide that the IAB Chair is the RSM, with
	authority to act either independent of IAB consensus or
	with only the briefest of "if you object, speak up
	quickly" notifications to the IAB.
	(3) The RSM is, by default, the IAD.

I won't comment (at least now) on either of the first two of
these other than expressing some skepticism about both.  The
third would, IMO, be a mistake.  If there is one thing that the
discussions about the Model and other relationships here has
illustrated, it is that even the Production House is not
something that could be handed over to a collection of
copy-editors with no technical subject-matter expertise and that
the RSE role requires even more subject-matter knowledge about
the Internet and its protocols and documents.  That requirement
for greater or lesser amounts of subject matter expertise is
very unlike, e.g., the Secretariat and the other sorts of
administrative tasks anticipated by the IASA model.

If you take the IAD -- whose job description and qualifications
are very much tied to management oversight of those purely
administrative functions -- and require that he or she also act
as RSM and manage a complex and technical publication process,
help the various elements of that process work smoothly together
and take informed action when they don't...   well, we had all
better pray that everything works smoothly all of the time,
because, if it doesn't, the odds of informed action quickly and
efficiently enough to prevent publication process disruptions
are, IMO, fairly low.  Personally, I don't find prayer a
particularly satisfactory mechanism for holding management
arrangements together.  YMMD.

Again, impose any level of strategic oversight on the RSM you
like, and any set of restrictions you think appropriate on
actions the RSM can take without seeking consent of the IAB
and/or IAOC (but keep in mind that the choices you make may have
an effect on who would be willing to take on the job).  But, if
you don't assign the RSM authority and responsibilities to the
RSE, please understand that the RSM role is going to happen
somewhere... and that hand waving about what the IAB or IAOC
will do (either in line responsibilities or in oversight) has to
be weighed against the ability of those volunteer,
infrequently-meeting, bodies to respond quickly to crisis and
conflict situations that require immediate decisions if the flow
of documents through the publication process is to continue
without interruption.


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