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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.

Davies Informational [Page 1] 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.

Davies Informational [Page 15] RFC 3774 IETF Problem Statement May 2004

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

Davies Informational [Page 16] RFC 3774 IETF Problem Statement May 2004

 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.

Davies Informational [Page 17] RFC 3774 IETF Problem Statement May 2004

 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.

Davies Informational [Page 18] RFC 3774 IETF Problem Statement May 2004

 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

Davies Informational [Page 19] RFC 3774 IETF Problem Statement May 2004

 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 <>
    Marc Blanchet <>
    Dave Crocker <>
    Spencer Dawkins <>
    Avri Doria <> (WG co-chair)
    Jeanette Hoffmann <>
    Melinda Shore <> (WG co-chair)
    Margaret Wasserman <>
 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

Davies Informational [Page 20] RFC 3774 IETF Problem Statement May 2004

 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

Davies Informational [Page 21] RFC 3774 IETF Problem Statement May 2004

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
 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


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

Davies Informational [Page 22]

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