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Network Working Group                                     E. Davies, Ed.
Request for Comments: 3774                               Nortel Networks
Category: Informational                                         May 2004

                         IETF Problem Statement

Status of this Memo

   This memo provides information for the Internet community.  It does
   not specify an Internet standard of any kind.  Distribution of this
   memo is unlimited.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2004).  All Rights Reserved.


   This memo summarizes perceived problems in the structure, function,
   and processes of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).  We are
   attempting to identify these problems, so that they can be addressed
   and corrected by the IETF community.

   The problems have been digested and categorized from an extensive
   discussion which took place on the 'problem-statement' mailing list
   from November 2002 to September 2003.  The problem list has been
   further analyzed in an attempt to determine the root causes at the
   heart of the perceived problems: The result will be used to guide the
   next stage of the process in the Problem Statement working group
   which is to recommend the structures and processes that will carry
   out the corrections.

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RFC 3774                 IETF Problem Statement                 May 2004

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction: Issues/Problems in the IETF Process  . . . . . .  2
       1.1.  Consequences of Past Growth  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
       1.2.  The Aim is Improvement, not Finger-pointing  . . . . . .  4
       1.3.  Perceived Problems - Consensus on Solutions  . . . . . .  4
   2.  Root Cause Problems  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
       2.1.  Participants in the IETF do not have a Common
             Understanding of its Mission . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
       2.2.  The IETF does not Consistently use Effective
             Engineering Practices  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
       2.3.  The IETF has Difficulty Handling Large and/or Complex
             Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  9
       2.4.  Three Stage Standards Hierarchy not properly Utilized  . 11
       2.5.  The IETF's Workload Exceeds the Number of Fully
             Engaged Participants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
             2.5.1.  Lack of Formal Recognition . . . . . . . . . . . 13
       2.6.  The IETF Management Structure is not Matched to the
             Current Size and Complexity of the IETF  . . . . . . . . 13
             2.6.1.  Span of Authority  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
             2.6.2.  Workload of the IESG . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
             2.6.3.  Procedural Blockages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
             2.6.4.  Consequences of Low Throughput in IESG . . . . . 15
             2.6.5.  Avoidance of Procedural Ossification . . . . . . 15
             2.6.6.  Concentration of Influence in Too Few Hands  . . 16
             2.6.7.  Excessive Reliance on Personal Relationships . . 17
             2.6.8.  Difficulty making Technical and Process Appeals. 18
       2.7.  Working Group Dynamics can make Issue Closure Difficult. 18
       2.8.  IETF Participants and Leaders are Inadequately Prepared
             for their Roles  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
   3.  Security Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
   4.  Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
   5.  References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
       5.1.  Normative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
       5.2.  Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
   6.  Editor's Address . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
   7.  Full Copyright Statement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22

1.  Introduction: Issues/Problems in the IETF Process

   Discussion started in the second half of 2002 has shown that a
   significant number of problems are believed to exist in the way the
   Internet Engineering Taskforce (IETF) operates.  Before attempting to
   change the IETF procedures and rules to deal with these problems, the
   IETF should have a clear, agreed-upon description of what problems we
   are trying to solve.

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   The Problem Statement working group was chartered to create this
   document, which contains a description of the problems, and to use
   this analysis to suggest processes to address the identified

   Taken in isolation, this document may appear to be exceedingly
   negative.  The IETF needs to refresh its management and processes to
   address today's challenges, but it should not be forgotten that the
   IETF has produced a large body of high quality work which has lead to
   an extremely successful and pervasive network infrastructure.
   Against this background, we should see the current document as a
   necessary piece of self-criticism leading to renewal and continued
   success.  The discussion of the positive aspects has been
   deliberately confined to the IETF Problem Resolution Processes
   document [5] which considers the core values that the IETF needs to
   maintain whilst correcting the problems that participants perceive as
   affecting the IETF at present.

   The raw material for this document was derived by summarizing the
   extensive discussions which initially took place on the 'wgchairs'
   mailing list and subsequently on the 'problem-statement' mailing list
   from November 2002 through to September 2003, incorporating
   additional input from relevant drafts published during this period
   (see [2], [3] and [4]), and the minutes of recent plenary
   discussions.  This produced a list of perceived problems which were
   classified into a number of related groups using a classification
   suggested by the processes which go on in the IETF.

   This document has digested these perceived problems into a small set
   of root cause issues, and a short list of subsidiary issues which
   appear to be the most pressing items engendered by the root cause.
   This list is set out in Section 2.

   Section 1.1 gives a short explanation of the thinking that has taken
   place in coming to the current view of the root causes.

   The original summary of perceived problems has been posted to the
   Problem Statement Working Group mailing list so that it can be
   referred to in future.  Note that it remains classified according the
   original scheme so that the raw data is available if alternative root
   cause analysis is needed.

1.1.  Consequences of Past Growth

   As the problems of the IETF were examined, it became clear that they
   are neither new nor are they symptoms of a problem which is novel in
   the science of organizations.

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   The IETF started off as a small, focused organization with a clearly
   defined mission and participants who had been working in this area
   for a significant period of time.  Over the period 1989-1999, the
   IETF grew by a factor of ten or more in terms of number of
   participants, and volume of work in progress.  The effects of this
   growth have been compounded by the extension of the scope of the IETF
   which makes the work much more varied.  Also during this period, the
   Internet has become more complex and the requirements placed on it by
   a far larger user community have changed as the network has come to
   have a pivotal role in many areas of life.

   Many of the problems and symptoms appear to be fundamentally caused
   by the organization failing to fully adapt its management structure
   and processes to its new larger size and the increased complexity of
   the work.  The IETF has also failed to clearly define its future
   mission now that the initial mission has been completed or outgrown.

   These failures are just those that afflict many small organizations
   trying to make the transition from a small organization, which can be
   run informally and where essentially all participants fully share the
   aims, values, and motivations of the leadership, to a medium sized
   organization, where there are too many participants for informal
   leadership and later arrivals either do not fully understand or have
   a different perception of the ethos of the organization.

   Some IETF participants have been aware of these issues for a long
   time.  Records dating back to at least 1992 drew similar conclusions.

1.2.  The Aim is Improvement, not Finger-pointing

   Many of the problems identified in this memo have been remarkably
   persistent over a 15-year period, surviving a number of changes in
   personnel.  We see them as structural problems, not personnel
   problems.  Blame for any of the perceived problems should not be
   directed to any individual.  The sole aim of this review process is
   to identify how the IETF can improve itself so that it knows what it
   is about and becomes fit for that purpose in the shortest possible
   time frame.

1.3.  Perceived Problems - Consensus on Solutions

   The working group participants emphasize that both the long list of
   problems and the root cause issues that were derived from them are
   problems that are believed to exist by a significant constituency,
   either on the mailing list and/or in private discussions.  We also
   note that many of these problems appear to be of long standing, as a

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   very similar list has survived from the discussions in the first
   POISED working group that took place prior to the IETF organizational
   changes approved in 1992.

   We, in line with many contributors to the mailing list, believe that
   it is important to try and identify what appear to be the root causes
   of the perceived problems, but trying to prioritize or assign a
   relative importance to the problems would not be useful: rough
   consensus on an unordered list of real and important root causes will
   be sufficient.  The root causes identified will provide a guide in
   setting up the processes needed to resolve the problems: the
   perceived problems can be viewed as multiple symptoms of the root
   causes which should provide input to those trying to resolve the
   problems in achieving consensus on solutions.

2.  Root Cause Problems

   This section forms the heart of this analysis, and lists the issues
   which we believe lie at the core of the problems.  Apart from the
   first issue which is fundamental, the problems are not necessarily in
   priority order, but they will be seen to be interlinked in various

2.1.  Participants in the IETF do not have a Common Understanding of
      its Mission

   The IETF lacks a clearly defined and commonly understood Mission: as
   a result, the goals and priorities for the IETF as a whole and any
   Working Groups (WGs) that are chartered are also unclear.

   The IETF needs to understand its mission in the context of the
   greatly increased scope and complexity of the Internet, and the
   changing requirements of the much larger user community that the
   success of its previous work has engendered.

   The lack of a common mission has many consequences, of which the
   principal ones appear to be:

   o  The IETF is unsure what it is trying to achieve and hence cannot
      know what its optimum internal organization should be to achieve
      its aims.

   o  The IETF cannot determine what its 'scope' should be, and hence
      cannot decide whether a piece of proposed work is either in-scope
      or out-of-scope.

   o  The IETF is unsure who its stakeholders are.  Consequently,
      certain groups of stakeholder, who could otherwise provide

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      important input to the process, have been more or less sidelined
      because it has seemed to these stakeholders that the organization
      does not give due weight to their input.

   o  Working Groups can potentially be hijacked by sectional interests
      to the detriment of the IETF's mission.

   o  The misty vision has inhibited the development of roadmaps that
      would inform the IETF's stakeholders of our longer term
      intentions, as well as restricting the associated architectural
      views to an outline top level view which does not fully reflect
      the developing nature of the Internet.  It would be desirable to
      have roadmaps and architectural views for portions of work which
      extend beyond a single working group:  it may also be the case
      that it is no longer possible to fit the whole Internet within a
      single architecture.

   o  The IETF is unable to determine explicitly what effect it desires
      to have in the marketplace, and is therefore unable to determine
      what requirements of timeliness are appropriate when planning work
      and setting expectations for stakeholders which will further the
      IETF's mission.

   o  The lack of precision regarding our goals leads to WG charters and
      requirements that are poorly thought out and/or not aligned with
      the overall architecture.  The resulting poorly defined charters
      are a major factor in poor quality and/or late deliveries from
      some WGs and the total failure of other WGs.

   o  The IETF needs to avoid focusing on a too-narrow scope of
      technology because this would be likely to blinker the IETF's view
      of 'the good of the Internet', and will harm the long-term goal of
      making the Internet useful to the greatest number stakeholders;
      this argues for allowing a relatively wide range of topics to be
      worked on in the IETF - cross-fertilization has always been one of
      the IETF's strengths.

   An additional barrier to achieving a common understanding is that the
   IETF does not have a recognized forum in which all stakeholders
   participate and in which organization wide consensus might be
   reached.  Plenary meetings during regular IETF meetings allow a large
   cross-section of the community to offer views, but there is not
   generally sufficient time to achieve consensus and there is no single
   mailing list which all stakeholders can be guaranteed to monitor.

   The IETF creates standards and is therefore necessarily a Standards
   Development Organization (SDO), but many participants would like to
   differentiate the IETF and its way of working from the 'conventional'

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   SDOs which emphasize corporate involvement and mandated delegates.
   Externally, the IETF is often classified with these conventional
   SDOs, especially by detractors, because the differentiation in the
   IETF's mission and processes and the rationale for those differences
   are not clear.  This can lead to the IETF being misunderstood by
   other SDOs which can make communications between SDOs less effective,
   harming the IETF's ability to achieve its mission.

2.2.  The IETF does not Consistently use Effective Engineering Practices

   For an organization with 'engineering' in its title and participants
   who are likely to trot out the statement "Trust me, I'm an engineer!"
   when confronted with the need to find a solution to a particularly
   knotty problem, the IETF has, at least in some cases, extremely
   ineffective engineering practices.  Effective engineering practices,
   as used here, covers both the techniques used to derive and verify
   the technical solutions needed, and the management and organizational
   strategies that are commonly accepted to help with the engineering

   A major symptom of this lack is that WGs do not consistently produce
   timely, high-quality, and predictable output.  As discussed in
   Section 2.1, this problem is exacerbated because the IETF currently
   finds it difficult to determine what is timely, and hence what are
   appropriate deadlines for the delivery of WG output.  Some of the
   contributing problems which interfere with effective engineering in
   WGs include:

   o  Failure to ensure that there is a uniform view in the WG of the
      scope of the WG activity, especially the intended purpose of the

   o  Failure to identify the issues that need to be resolved at an
      early stage (before the design is frozen), and/or then to ensure
      that there is a uniform view in the WG of the issues that need to
      be resolved to bring the work to a satisfactory conclusion.

   o  Failure to identify and articulate engineering trade-offs that may
      be needed to meet the deadlines that the WG has set without
      inappropriately reducing the 'fitness for purpose' for the
      intended customers.

   o  Continued refinement of the solution beyond the point at which it
      is adequate to meet the requirements placed on it by the intended

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   The IETF standards engineering process is not set up to deliver
   iterative process improvement.  Particular areas that need
   improvement include:

   o  The charter may not be sufficiently detailed to document the
      process and timeline to be followed by the WG.  Additional
      documents may be needed, such as a roadmap or detailed plans.

   o  Poorly defined success criteria for WGs and individual documents.

   o  Lack of written guidelines or templates for the content of
      documents (as opposed to the overall layout) and matching lists of
      review criteria designed to achieve appropriate quality in output.

   o  Lack of auditing against explicit criteria throughout the
      standards development process.

   o  Lack of review, especially early review, by reviewers who are not
      directly interested members of the WG, and by subject matter
      experts for topics related to, but not necessarily the immediate
      focus of the document.

   o  Lack of documentation about likely problem areas that might arise
      due to interactions with other popular IETF protocols.

   o  Lack of metrics to measure the achievement of the desired quality
      and the performance of both WGs and the whole IETF.

   o  Lack of metrics and 'post mortem' procedures to drive the
      improvement of the standards development and other IETF processes.

   o  Lack of criteria for determining when a piece of work is
      overrunning and/or is unlikely to be concluded successfully,
      either at all or within an acceptable time frame.  Lack of process
      for extending the time frame, adjusting the scope, or terminating
      the work item or the whole Working Group.

   o  Automated tools to support the engineering process are minimal.

   o  Despite its commitment to 'running code', the IETF is not
      proactive in providing ways for developers to verify their
      implementations of IETF standards.

   In addition, IETF processes, and Working Group processes in
   particular, suffer because commonly accepted Project Management
   techniques are not regularly applied to the progress of work in the

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   o  Project entry, goal setting, dependency identification,
      coordination, and tracking processes are all either missing or
      implemented less effectively than the norm for commercial
      organizations in related activities.  Dependencies and
      coordination should cover both other WGs within the IETF and any
      outside SDO with which the IETF is collaborating.

   o  Charters regularly fail to set enough milestones with sufficiently
      small granularity at which progress of WGs, individuals, and
      documents can be evaluated.  Also, WGs often do not make more
      detailed work plans to refine the charter plans.

   o  The acceptable deadlines for finishing a piece of work, and the
      criteria used to determine them, are rarely, if ever, documented.
      Also, the estimated time required to complete the work often
      differs widely from the time actually taken.  The combination of
      these factors makes determining the feasibility of delivering
      within the required time frame, and then adjusting the scope of
      the work to fit the time frame requirements, extremely difficult.

   One problem which the IETF does not appear to suffer from is
   excessive bureaucracy, in the sense that transfer of information is
   generally kept to the minimum necessary to accomplish the task.  It
   is important that any changes introduced do not significantly
   increase the bureaucratic load whilst still recording sufficient
   information to allow process improvement.

   Finally, even where the IETF does have Engineering Practices defined,
   there are frequently cases where they are ignored or distorted.  One
   area of particular concern is the tendency for protocols to be
   assessed and issues resolved primarily through static analysis of the
   written specification rather than by practical experiment with
   'running code'.

2.3.  The IETF has Difficulty Handling Large and/or Complex Problems

   The IETF has historically been most successful when dealing with
   tightly focused problems that have few interactions with other parts
   of the total problem solution.  Given that the Internet has become
   more complex, such tightly focused problems are becoming the
   exception.  The IETF does not always seem to be aware of the
   interactions between protocols that are bound to be thrown up by
   deployment in more complex situations and so fails to minimize the
   chances of unwelcome consequences arising unforeseen when a new
   protocol is deployed.  This may be exacerbated by inadequate review
   from outside the WG as suggested in Section 2.2.

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   IETF standardization procedures are optimized for tightly constrained
   working groups and are generally less effective if 'engineering in
   the large' is needed to reach a satisfactory solution.  Engineering
   in the large can encompass many aspects of system design including:


   The IETF has historically standardized protocol components rather
   than complete systems, but as we have learned more about the ways in
   which systems on the Internet interact, design of components needs to
   take into account more and more external constraints, and the
   understanding of these constraints tends to require more engineering
   in the large.

   Part of the cause of this difficulty may be that the formal reporting
   structure of the IETF emphasizes communication between the Internet
   Engineering Steering Group (IESG) through the ADs and the WGs, and
   does not place much reliance on inter-WG communications:

   o  The IETF is not consistently effective at resolving issues that
      cross WG or area boundaries.

   o  The IETF does not possess effective formal mechanisms for inter-WG
      cooperation, coordination, or communication, including the
      handling of dependencies between deliverables and processes
      specified in WG charters.

   o  The IETF does not have an effective means for defining
      architectures and frameworks that will shape the work of multiple

   The IETF also has to work with other SDOs, and the liaison mechanisms
   for coordination and cooperation do not always work efficiently.
   This needs to be remedied because some of the interactions which IETF
   work has to take into account will involve protocols and systems
   standardized by these other SDOs.

   A possible consequence of the need for more engineering in the large
   is that protocol specifications have become larger: as a result they
   now take longer to develop.  Some people perceive that this is
   because the IESG has tended to require protocol specifications to
   specify an entire system, instead of simple component protocols,
   leading to feature bloat and applicability only to a narrow range of
   applications (see also Section 2.4).  On the other hand, others
   believe that the IESG has approved simple component protocols without

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   an adequate understanding of the systems and contexts in which the
   protocols might be used.  These problems appear to be two additional
   aspects of the general problem that the IETF has with handling large
   and/or complex systems.

2.4.  Three Stage Standards Hierarchy not properly Utilized

   The current hierarchy of Proposed, Draft, and Full Standard maturity
   levels for specifications is no longer being used in the way that was
   envisioned when the stratification was originally proposed.  In
   practice, the IETF currently has a one-step standards process that
   subverts the IETF's preference for demonstrating effectiveness
   through running code in multiple interoperable implementations.  This
   compresses the process that previously allowed specifications to
   mature as experience was gained with actual implementations:

   o  Relatively few specifications are now progressed beyond Proposed
      Standard (PS) to Draft Standard (DS) level, and even fewer to Full
      Standard (FS).

   o  It is widely perceived that the IESG has 'raised the (quality)
      bar' that standards have to pass to be accorded a PS status.
      Protocol developers may be required to specify a complete system
      rather than an interface in order for their specification to be
      approved as a PS (see also Section 2.3).

   o  In spite of the apparently higher quality hurdle, implementation
      or deployment experience is still not required, so the IETF's
      guiding principle of 'rough consensus and running code' has less
      of a chance to be effective.

   o  There appears to be a vicious circle in operation where vendors
      tend to deploy protocols that have reached PS as if they were
      ready for full production, rather than accepting that standards at
      the PS level are still under development and could be expected to
      be altered after feature, performance, and interoperability tests
      in limited pilot installations, as was originally intended.  The
      enthusiasm of vendors to achieve a rapid time to market seems to
      have encouraged the IETF in general and the IESG in particular to
      attempt to ensure that specifications at PS are ready for prime
      time, and that subsequent modifications will be minimal as it
      progresses to DS and FS, assuming effort can be found to create
      the necessary applicability and interoperability reports that are

   o  The three stage hierarchy is, accordingly, seen to be excessive.

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   o  There is no formal bug reporting or tracking system in place for
      IETF specifications.

   o  The periodic review of protocols at PS and DS levels specified in
      [1] are not being carried out, allowing protocols to persist in
      these lower maturity levels for extended periods of time, whereas
      the process would normally expect them to progress or be relegated
      to Historic status.

   o  No individual or body is given the task of 'maintaining' a
      specification after the original WG has closed down.
      Specifications are generally only updated when a need for a new
      version is perceived.  No attempt is normally made to correct bugs
      in the specification (whether they affect operation or not) and
      the specification is not updated to reflect parts of the
      specification that have fallen into disuse or were, in fact, never
      implemented.  This is, in part, because the current procedures
      would require a standard to revert to the PS maturity level, even
      when specification maintenance is carried out.  This occurs even
      if the changes can be demonstrated to have no or minimal effect on
      an existing protocol at the DS or FS level.

2.5.  The IETF's Workload Exceeds the Number of Fully Engaged

   There are a number of respects in which IETF participants and
   contributors appear to have become less fully engaged with the IETF
   processes, for example:

   o  Although there may be large attendance at many WG meetings, in
      many cases, 5% or less of the participants have read the drafts
      under discussion or that have a bearing on the decisions to be

   o  Commitments to write, edit, or review a document are not carried
      out in a timely fashion.

   o  Little or no response is seen when a request for 'last-call'
      review is issued, either at WG or IETF level.

   This might be because contributors have less time available in their
   work schedule during the downturn of the Internet business climate
   between 2001 and 2003.  Yet, this is not the whole story, as there
   were signs of this effect back at the height of the Internet's boom
   in 2000.

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   This problem exacerbates the problems the IETF has had with timely
   delivery and may weaken the authority of IETF specifications if
   decisions are seen to be taken by badly informed participants and
   without widespread review.

2.5.1.  Lack of Formal Recognition

   Beyond RFC Authorship, WG Chair positions, Directorate positions, or
   IESG and Internet Architecture Board (IAB) membership, the IETF does
   not offer formal recognition of contributions to the IETF.  This
   potentially acts as a disincentive to continued engagement and can
   lead to useful and effective participants leaving because they cannot
   obtain any recognition (the only currency the IETF has to pay
   participants), which they use to fuel their own enthusiasm and help
   justify their continued attendance at IETF meetings to cost
   constrained employers.  Note: Using Leadership positions as rewards
   for good work would probably be damaging to the IETF.  This paragraph
   is meant to indicate the need for other types of rewards.

2.6.  The IETF Management Structure is not Matched to the Current Size
      and Complexity of the IETF

   The management and technical review processes currently in place were
   adequate for the older, smaller IETF, but are apparently not scalable
   to the current size of the organization.  The form of the
   organization has not been significantly modified since 1992, since
   when the organization has undergone considerable further growth.  The
   scope of IETF activities has also been extended as the Internet has
   become more complex.

2.6.1.  Span of Authority

   Overt authority in the IETF is concentrated in the small number of
   people sitting on the IESG at that time.  Existing IETF processes
   work to funnel tasks on to this small number of people (primarily the
   Area Directors (ADs) in the IESG).  This concentration slows process
   and puts a very large load of responsibility on the shoulders of
   these people who are required to act as the senior management for
   Working Group (WG) chairs, as well as acting as quality backstops for
   the large number of documents issued by the IETF.  The situation has
   not been helped by the widening of the scope of the IETF, which has
   resulted in somewhat more WGs and a need for a very broad spectrum of
   knowledge within the set of ADs.

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2.6.2.  Workload of the IESG

   With the current structure of the IETF and IESG, the workload imposed
   on each of the ADs is almost certainly well beyond the capabilities
   of a single person.

   The current job description for an AD encompasses at least the
   following tasks:

   o  Interacting with WGs

   o  Understanding network and computer technology in general, and
      their own area in detail

   o  Cross-pollinating between groups

   o  Coordinating with other areas

   o  Potentially, managing their Area Directorate team

   o  Effectively providing technical management, people-management, and
      project supervision for their WGs

   o  Reading (or at least skimming) every formal document which the
      IETF produces, and having an opinion on all of them, as well as
      all the Internet Drafts produced by the WGs in the area, and
      understanding the interactions between all these specifications.

   Given the number of WGs which are now active, the increasing
   complexity of both the work being undertaken and the technology in
   general, together with the volume of documents being produced, makes
   it clear that only superhumans can be expected to do this job well.
   To make matters worse, these tasks are, in theory, a 'part time'
   occupation.  ADs will normally have a conventional job, with the IETF
   activities as just one part of their job specification.  This view
   has been reinforced by recent resignations from the IESG, citing the
   size of the workload as a primary factor.  The IETF also has no
   mechanisms to nominate a temporary replacement or an assistant should
   an AD be incapacitated wholly or partially for a period.

   The malign effects of this overload include:

   o  Wear on the IESG:  The IESG members are overworked which is bad
      for their health, humor, and home life, and may also result in
      conflicts with their employers if the IETF work impacts the IESG
      member's performance of their 'day job'.

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   o  Unhappiness in the IETF:  IETF stakeholders perceive that IESG
      members are responding slowly, are not fully up-to-date with their
      technology, fail to pro-actively manage problems in their WGs, and
      are unable to keep communication channels with other groups open.

   o  Recruiting shrinkage: The number of people who can imagine taking
      on an IESG post is steadily decreasing.  It is largely limited to
      people who work for large companies who can afford to send IESG
      members to the IETF for the duration of their appointments.  In
      the current business climate, fewer companies are able to justify
      the preemption of an important engineering and business resource
      for a significant period of time, and are more likely to put
      forward 'standards professionals' than their best engineers.

2.6.3.  Procedural Blockages

   The current procedural rules combined with the management and quality
   roles of the ADs can lead to situations where WGs or document authors
   believe that one or two ADs are deliberately blocking the progress of
   a WG document without good reason or public justification.  Appeal
   processes in these circumstances are limited and the only sanction
   that could be applied to the relevant ADs is recall, which has almost
   always been seen to be out of scale with the apparent offense and
   hence almost never invoked.  This perception of invulnerability has
   led to a view that the IESG in general and the ADs in particular are
   insufficiently accountable for their actions to their WGs and the
   IETF at large, although the recent introduction of the Internet Draft
   Tracker tool makes it easier to determine if and how a document has
   become blocked, and hence to take appropriate steps to release it.

2.6.4.  Consequences of Low Throughput in IESG

   If documents are inappropriately (or even accidentally) delayed or
   blocked as a result of IESG (in)action, this can cause much
   frustration inside the organization, a perception of disunity seen
   from outside the organization, and delay of standards, possibly to
   the point where they are too late to match market requirements: work
   which has been properly authorized as being within the scope of the
   IETF and properly quality checked during development, should almost
   never come up against such a blockage.

   Delay in authorizing a BOF or chartering a new WG can delay the start
   of the process with similar effects.

   It also appears that IESG delays are sometimes used to excuse what is
   actually slow work in WGs.

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2.6.5.  Avoidance of Procedural Ossification

   The systems and processes used by the IETF are generally designed
   around having firm general principles and considerable IESG
   discretion within those principles.  It appears that the IETF is
   showing a disturbing tendency to turn IESG 'rules of convenience'
   into rigid strictures that cannot be violated or deviated from.

   Up to now, IETF discussions of procedures have been driven by a model
   in which the procedural BCPs construct a framework for doing work,
   but the details of the framework are left for the IESG to fill in.
   When issues or crises have arisen, the IETF has generally avoided
   making specific procedural changes to compensate, instead realizing
   that we could not anticipate all cases and that 'fighting the last
   war' is not a good way to proceed.

   This can only continue to work if the participants continue to trust
   the IESG to act fairly in filling in the details and making
   appropriate exceptions, without a great deal of debate, when it is
   clearly desirable.  At present, the IETF appears to have lost sight
   of this flexibility, and is entangling itself in procedures that
   evolve from organizational conveniences into encumbrances.

2.6.6.  Concentration of Influence in Too Few Hands

   Until the last couple of years, successive IETF Nominating Committees
   have chosen to give heavy weighting to continuity of IESG and IAB
   membership.  Thus, the IETF appeared to have created an affinity
   group system which tended to re-select the same leaders from a
   limited pool of people who had proved competent and committed in the

   Members of this affinity group tend to talk more freely to each other
   and former members of the affinity group - this may be because the
   affinity group has also come to share a cultural outlook which
   matches the dominant cultural ethos of the IETF (North American,
   English speaking).  Newcomers to the organization and others outside
   the affinity group are reluctant to challenge the apparent authority
   of the extended affinity group during debates and consequently
   influence remains concentrated in a relatively small group of people.

   This reluctance may also be exacerbated if participants come from a
   different cultural background than the dominant one.  Such
   participants also tend to find it more difficult to follow the rapid
   and colloquial speaking style of native English speakers, and may
   consequently be effectively excluded from the discussion, even if
   maximum assistance is available by such means as real time Jabber
   logs and extensive text on presentation slides.  Even on mailing

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   lists, people from other cultures may be reluctant to be as
   forthright as is often the case in discussions between North
   Americans; also, a person whose first language is not English may be
   daunted by the volume of mail that can occur on some mailing lists
   and the use of colloquialisms or euphemisms may cause
   misunderstandings if correspondents are not aware of the problem.

   A further instance of the problems of concentration of influence
   potentially occurs when, from time to time, ADs have acted as WG
   chairs: conflict of interest might well arise in discussions between
   the IESG and any WG with an AD as its chair.  Whilst care is usually
   taken to have a newly selected AD vacate any WG chair positions which
   might be held in his or her own area, the conflict can arise on the
   occasions when an AD has been used as the chair of a WG because it is
   clearly the right (or only possible) solution for the WG from an
   engineering and know-how position.  Furthermore, given the known
   problem of workload for IESG members, there must be doubts as to
   whether an AD can or ought to be taking on this extra load.

2.6.7.  Excessive Reliance on Personal Relationships

   The IETF is an intensely personal and individualistic organization.
   Its fundamental structure is based on individuals as actors, rather
   than countries, organizations, or companies as in most other SDOs.

   This is also reflected in how the IETF gets its work done: the NOMCOM
   process, the WG Chair selection processes, and the activities of WGs
   are all reliant on personal knowledge of the capabilities of other
   individuals and an understanding built on experience of what they can
   be expected to deliver, given that there are almost no sanctions that
   can be applied beyond not asking them to do a similar task again.
   The relationship works best when it is two way - the person being
   asked to perform a task needs to be able to rely on the behavior of
   the person doing the asking.

   In essence, the IETF is built on a particular kind of one-to-one
   personal trust relationship.  This is a very powerful model but it
   does not scale well because this trust is not transitive.  Just
   because you trust one person, it does not mean that you trust (i.e.,
   know the capabilities of and can rely on) all the people that person
   trusts in turn.

   The disruption caused when one set of relationships has to be
   replaced by another is clearest when an AD is replaced.  The IETF
   does not keep personnel records or written plans, and formal process
   documentation is very sparse, so that incoming ADs have little
   information on which to base new relationships with WG chairs or
   Directorate members not already known to them.

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   A new AD has to build or bring along his or her set of trusted
   individuals.  The AD will tend to prefer individuals from this set as
   WG chairs, unless there is a suitable outsider who was part of the
   team that brought the WG idea to the IETF.  This tends to limit the
   AD's field of choice, particularly when asking for a 'stabilizing',
   'advising', or 'process' chair to work with an enthusiastic newcomer
   in a difficult area.  A breakdown of an established relationship
   (such as between an AD and a WG chair) can be very damaging to the
   work of the IETF, and it may not be immediately obvious to outsiders.

   Another consequence of the reliance on personal relationships is that
   the IETF has very little institutional 'memory' outside the memories
   of the people in the process at a given time.  This makes it more
   likely that failures will be repeated and makes process improvement
   more difficult (see Section 2.2).

2.6.8.  Difficulty making Technical and Process Appeals

   When an individual thinks that the process has produced a result that
   is harmful to the Internet or thinks that IETF processes have not
   been adhered to, there is no mechanism to aid that individual in
   seeking to change that result.

2.7.  Working Group Dynamics can make Issue Closure Difficult

   The IETF appears to be poor at making timely and reasonable decisions
   that can be guaranteed to be adhered to during the remainder of a
   process or until shown to be incorrect.

   The problems documented in this section are probably consequences of
   the non-hierarchical organization of the IETF and the volunteer
   status of most participants.  The enforcement measures available in a
   more conventional hierarchical corporate environment are mostly not
   available here, and it is unlikely that application of some well-
   known procedure or practice will fix these problems.

   Participants are frequently allowed to re-open previously closed
   issues just to replay parts of the previous discussion without
   introducing new material.  This may be either because the decision
   has not been clearly documented, or it may be a maneuver to try to
   get a decision changed because the participant did not concur with
   the consensus originally.  In either case, revisiting decisions stops
   the process from moving forward, and in the worst cases, can
   completely derail a working group.  On the other hand, the decision
   making process must allow discussions to be re-opened if significant
   new information comes to light or additional experience is gained
   which appears to justify alternative conclusions for a closed issue.

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   One cause that can lead to legitimate attempts to re-open an
   apparently closed issue is the occurrence of 'consensus by
   exhaustion'.  The consensus process can be subverted by off-topic or
   overly dogmatic mail storms which can lead to the exclusion of
   knowledgeable participants who are unable to devote the time needed
   to counter the mail storm.  The consequence may be an
   unrepresentative and unsatisfactory consensus which will tend to be
   re-opened, often leading to repeat discussions.  Mailing lists, which
   are at the heart of the IETF WG process, are becoming increasingly
   ineffective at resolving issues and achieving consensus because of
   this phenomenon.

   A single vocal individual or small group can be a particular
   challenge to WG progress and the authority of the chair.  The IETF
   does not have a strategy for dealing effectively with an individual
   who is inhibiting progress, whilst ensuring that an individual who
   has a genuine reason for revisiting a decision is allowed to get his
   or her point across.

2.8.  IETF Participants and Leaders are Inadequately Prepared for
      their Roles

   Participants and leaders at all levels in the IETF need to be taught
   the principles of the organization (Mission and Architecture(s)) and
   trained in carrying out the processes, which they have to use in
   developing specifications, etc.

   Part of the reason for the lack of training in the principles of the
   organization is that there is not currently an explicit formulation
   of these principles that is generally agreed upon by all
   stakeholders.  Section 2.1 identifies that this shortage is a major

   The IETF currently has voluntary and inconsistent processes for
   educating its participants, which may be why significant numbers of
   participants seem to fail to conform to the proper principles when
   working in the IETF context.

   The people in authority have generally been steeped in the principles
   of the IETF (as they see them) and first-time non-compliance by newer
   participants is sometimes treated as an opportunity for abuse rather
   than recognition of a training failure.

   The IETF culture of openness also tends to tolerate participants who,
   whilst understanding the principles of the IETF, disagree with them
   and actively ignore them.  This can be confusing for newer
   participants, but they need to be made aware that the IETF does not
   exclude such people.  The IETF does not currently have a strategy for

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   dealing with the conflicts that can result from participants who
   disagree with the principles of the organization.

   Lack of training, compounded with the perceived concentration of
   influence in the affinity group documented in Section 2.6.6, can lead
   to newcomers being ignored during discussions, consequently being
   ineffective, either in their own eyes or their employers.  This may
   result in their departure from the IETF.

   In addition, some participants are not aware of the problems that
   participants, who do not have English as their first language, may
   have with rapid speaking and the use of colloquialisms in both spoken
   and written communication.  They are also not always aware of the
   possible cultural nuances that may make full participation more
   difficult for those who do not share the same outlook.

3.  Security Considerations

   This document does not, of itself, have security implications, but it
   may have identified problems which raise security considerations for
   other work.  Any such implications should be considered in the
   companion document which will be produced setting out how the IETF
   should set about solving the identified problems.

4.  Acknowledgements

   Apart from the contributions of all those who provided input on the
   problem statement mailing list, the final reduction of the problems
   was especially assisted by the following people:

      Rob Austein <sra@hactrn.net>
      Marc Blanchet <Marc.Blanchet@hexago.com>
      Dave Crocker <dcrocker@brandenburg.com>
      Spencer Dawkins <spencer@mcsr-labs.org>
      Avri Doria <avri@psg.com> (WG co-chair)
      Jeanette Hoffmann <jeanette@wz-berlin.de>
      Melinda Shore <mshore@cisco.com> (WG co-chair)
      Margaret Wasserman <margaret@thingmagic.com>

   Special thanks are due to Margaret Wasserman for extensive reviewing
   of and contributions to the wording of Section 2.

   The early part of the reduction of the problem statement mailing list
   input was done by Harald Alvestrand and the latter part by Elwyn
   Davies and the team acknowledged above.  In total, there were
   approximately 750 extensive and thoughtful contributions (some making

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   several points).  The thread was started by a call for volunteers in
   helping draft a problem statement, but quickly turned into a
   discussion of what the problems were.

   In addition to the editorial team, the following people have provided
   additional input and useful feedback on earlier versions of this
   document: Harald Alvestrand, Randy Bush, Brian Carpenter, James
   Kempf, John Klensin, John Loughney, Keith Moore.

5.  References

5.1.  Normative References

   [1]  Bradner, S., "The Internet Standards Process -- Revision 3", BCP
        9, RFC 2026, October 1996.

5.2.  Informative References

   [2]  Huston, G. and M. Rose, "A Proposal to Improve IETF
        Productivity", Work in Progress.

   [3]  Blanchet, M., "Suggestions to Streamline the IETF Process", Work
        in Progress.

   [4]  Hardie, T., "Working Groups and their Stuckees", Work in

   [5]  Davies, E. and J. Hofmann, Eds., "IETF Problem Resolution
        Processes", Work in Progress.

6.  Editor's Address

   Elwyn B. Davies
   Nortel Networks
   Harlow Laboratories
   London Road
   Harlow, Essex  CM17 9NA

   Phone: +44 1279 405 498
   EMail: elwynd@nortelnetworks.com

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7.  Full Copyright Statement

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2004).  This document is subject
   to the rights, licenses and restrictions contained in BCP 78, and
   except as set forth therein, the authors retain all their rights.

   This document and the information contained herein are provided on an

Intellectual Property

   The IETF takes no position regarding the validity or scope of any
   Intellectual Property Rights or other rights that might be claimed
   to pertain to the implementation or use of the technology
   described in this document or the extent to which any license
   under such rights might or might not be available; nor does it
   represent that it has made any independent effort to identify any
   such rights.  Information on the procedures with respect to
   rights in RFC documents can be found in BCP 78 and BCP 79.

   Copies of IPR disclosures made to the IETF Secretariat and any
   assurances of licenses to be made available, or the result of an
   attempt made to obtain a general license or permission for the use
   of such proprietary rights by implementers or users of this
   specification can be obtained from the IETF on-line IPR repository
   at http://www.ietf.org/ipr.

   The IETF invites any interested party to bring to its attention
   any copyrights, patents or patent applications, or other
   proprietary rights that may cover technology that may be required
   to implement this standard.  Please address the information to the
   IETF at ietf-ipr@ietf.org.


   Funding for the RFC Editor function is currently provided by the
   Internet Society.

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