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IETF Problem Statement

The information below is for an old version of the document that is already published as an RFC.
Document Type
This is an older version of an Internet-Draft that was ultimately published as RFC 3774.
Author Elwyn B. Davies
Last updated 2013-03-02 (Latest revision 2003-11-06)
RFC stream Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
Intended RFC status Informational
Additional resources Mailing list discussion
Stream WG state (None)
Document shepherd (None)
IESG IESG state Became RFC 3774 (Informational)
Action Holders
Consensus boilerplate Unknown
Telechat date (None)
Responsible AD Harald T. Alvestrand
Send notices to (None)
Problem Statement                                         E. Davies, Ed.
Internet-Draft                                           Nortel Networks
Expires: April 19, 2004                                 October 20, 2003

                         IETF Problem Statement

Status of this Memo

   This document is an Internet-Draft and is in full conformance with
   all provisions of Section 10 of RFC2026.

   Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
   Task Force (IETF), its areas, and its working groups. Note that other
   groups may also distribute working documents as Internet-Drafts.

   Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six months
   and may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other documents at any
   time. It is inappropriate to use Internet-Drafts as reference
   material or to cite them other than as "work in progress."

   The list of current Internet-Drafts can be accessed at http://

   The list of Internet-Draft Shadow Directories can be accessed at

   This Internet-Draft will expire on April 19, 2004.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2003). 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 to try and determine the root causes, that are 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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Table of Contents

   1.    Introduction: Issues/Problems in the IETF process  . . . . .  3
   1.1   Consequences of Past Growth  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  4
   1.2   The Aim is Improvement, not Finger-pointing  . . . . . . . .  4
   1.3   Perceived Problems - Consensus on Solutions  . . . . . . . .  5
   1.4   Major Changes between Versions 00 and 01 . . . . . . . . . .  5
   1.5   Major Changes between Versions 01 and 02 . . . . . . . . . .  6
   1.6   Major Changes between Versions 02 and 03 . . . . . . . . . .  6
   1.7   Major Changes between Versions 03 and 04 . . . . . . . . . .  7
   1.8   Major Changes between Versions 04 and 05 . . . . . . . . . .  8
   2.    Root Cause Problems  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
   2.1   Participants in the IETF do not have a Common
         Understanding of its Mission . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
   2.2   The IETF does not Consistently use Effective Engineering
         Practices  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
   2.3   The IETF has Difficulty Handling Large and/or Complex
         Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
   2.4   Three Stage Standards Hierarchy not properly Utilized  . . . 14
   2.5   The IETF's Workload Exceeds the Number of Fully Engaged
         Participants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
   2.5.1 Lack of Formal Recognition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
   2.6   The IETF Management Structure is not Matched to the
         Current Size and Complexity of the IETF  . . . . . . . . . . 16
   2.6.1 Span of Authority  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
   2.6.2 Workload of the IESG . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
   2.6.3 Procedural Blockages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
   2.6.4 Consequences of Low Throughput in IESG . . . . . . . . . . . 18
   2.6.5 Avoidance of Procedural Ossification . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
   2.6.6 Concentration of Influence in Too Few Hands  . . . . . . . . 19
   2.6.7 Excessive Reliance on Personal Relationships . . . . . . . . 20
   2.6.8 Difficulty making Technical and Process Appeals  . . . . . . 21
   2.7   Working Group Dynamics can make Issue Closure Difficult  . . 21
   2.8   IETF Participants and Leaders are Inadequately Prepared
         for their Roles  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
   3.    Security Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
   4.    IANA Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
   5.    Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
         Normative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
         Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
         Author's Address . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
         Intellectual Property and Copyright Statements . . . . . . . 25

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1. Introduction: Issues/Problems in the IETF process

   Discussions over the last year or more have shown that a significant
   number of problems are believed to exist in the way the Internet
   Engineering Taskforce (IETF) operates. In advance of trying 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.

   The Problem Statement working group was chartered to create this
   document, which contains the 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 took place initially on the 'wgchairs'
   mailing list and subsequently on the 'problem-statement' mailing list
   from November 2002 through to June 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

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   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.

   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 put in place a clear definition
   for 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. No blame for any of the perceived problems should be
   directed to any individual, and the sole aim of the 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

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1.3 Perceived Problems - Consensus on Solutions

   The working group participants would like emphasize that both the
   long list of problems and the root cause issues that we have 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 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.

1.4 Major Changes between Versions 00 and 01

   o  Section 1.3 added to clarify intentions of document.

   o  Section 2.3 added to document additional root cause involving
      IETF's difficulties with large and/or complex problems.

   o  Section 2.6 rewritten in line with mailing list comments.

   o  Definition of SDO corrected - "Defining" rather than

   o  Appendix A removed and posted to mailing list to ensure survival,
      pending possible conversion into a separate Informational RFC.

   o  Version 00 was perceived as excessively negative in tone.  This
      was particularly true of the section headings in Section 2 which
      were resolutely absolutist and gave hostages to fortune in the
      form of neat sound bites readily accessible to detractors looking
      for ready ammunition.  Consequently, the language in these
      headings has been modified. Additionally, some words have been
      added to the introduction noting the past successes of the IETF,
      pointing to the analysis of core values in the companion
      'processes' draft [5] and positioning this document as a piece of
      vital self-criticism presaging effective renewal and rebirth.

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1.5 Major Changes between Versions 01 and 02

   o  The term customer has been replaced by stakeholder when discussing
      people generally interested in a specification.

   o  Section 1.3 revised to further clarify intentions.

   o  The discussion of architecture in Section 2.1 has been extended to
      emphasize the need to provide roadmaps and their road in defining
      and recording what the IETF considers appropriate timelines for
      development of specifications.

   o  Section 2.2 has been modified extensively to reflect ideas of
      process improvement, the need for metrics and feed forward loops
      to avoid repetition of failures of WG and other process.

   o  Section 2.4 has been added to document the current problems with
      the existing three stage standards maturation path.

   o  Section 2.6 has been extensively rewritten in line with mailing
      list comments and to express some additional issues that have
      arisen including the effect of delays on the start-up of BOFs and
      WGs on throughput and the conflicts of interest that might arise
      when ADs act as WG chairs.

   o  New sub-sections have been added to Section 2.6 to document the
      excessive workload of IESG members, ossification of existing
      procedure due to decay of previous flexibility, the reliance of
      the IETF on personal relationships and the need for an appeals
      process  of last resort (the last of these is still under active
      discussion at this time).

   o  The sub-section of Section 2.6 dealing with Formal Recognition has
      been moved to Section 2.5.

   o  The problems of conflict management and the absence of a strategy
      for dealing with it has been added to both Section 2.7 where
      conflict can derail a WG and Section 2.8 where the lack of
      preparation of WG chairs and ADs for conflict resolution is noted.

1.6 Major Changes between Versions 02 and 03

   o  A paragraph has been added to Section 2.1 describing the lack of a
      forum for validating IETF-wide decisions and documents.

   o  The bullet point in Section 2.1 documenting that 'The IETF is
      unsure of who its stakeholders are' has been reworded to clarify

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   o  The bullet point relating to inter-WG cooperation and
      communication in Section 2.3 has been extended.

   o  The text of the body of Section 2.6.8 which was inadvertently
      omitted from v02 has been reinstated.

   o  A paragraph has been added to Section 2.7 to document the problems
      of 'consensus by exhaustion' which can lead to repeated re-opening
      of issues and unrepresentative apparent consensus.

   o  Text has been added to both Section 2.6.6 and Section 2.8 to
      further emphasize the problems which participants who are from
      other than the North American cultural milieu or who do not speak
      English as their first language.

   o  The paragraph in Section 2.6.6 referring to the possible conflicts
      of interest that can arise if an AD is also a WG chair has been
      reworded to clarify it.

1.7 Major Changes between Versions 03 and 04

   o  Some text has been added to the second paragraph of the
      Introduction pointing out the increased complexity of the Internet
      and changed requirements of users.

   o  The increased scope and complexity of the Internet are also
      mentioned to emphasize the context for a new mission for the IETF
      in Section 2.1.

   o  Clarification added to Section 2.2 that it covers both technical
      and management techniques that are commonly accepted as helping
      the engineering process.

   o  Bullet added to Section 2.2 noting lack of independent reviewers
      and lack of related topic review, especially early in the process.

   o  Dependency Identification and Coordination processes added to list
      of project management techniques in Section 2.2 that are not well
      applied. Noted that these should apply both to other WGs and
      external SDOs.

   o  Lack of awareness of interactions in today's more complex Internet
      emphasized in Section 2.3.

   o  Problems with liaisons with other SDOs and the effect on ability

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      to identify interactions added to Section 2.3.

   o  'Practices' replaced by 'Dynamics' in title of Section 2.7.

   o  Connection of problems in Section 2.7 made to non-hierarchical and
      volunteer nature of IETF organization.  Solutions therefore cannot
      be achieved by simple process changes.

   o  Additional point added to 'consensus by exhaustion' paragraph in
      Section 2.7:  Mailing lists are at heart of WG process but are
      becoming increasingly ineffective at issue resolution.

1.8 Major Changes between Versions 04 and 05

   o  Added a bullet in Section 2.2 indicating lack of documentation of
      potential protocol interactions.

   o  Two bullet points have been merged in Section 2.2 relating to the
      need for metrics and 'post mortem' reviews to improve processes.

   o  In Section 2.3 Pointed out the probable connection between
      inadequate external review and late detection of interactions.

   o  The last paragraphs of Section 2.6.4 and Section 2.6.5 have been
      toned down.

   o  The lack of a process to nominate a stand-in for a temporarily
      incapacitated AD has been noted in Section 2.6.2.

   o  Various spelling and grammatical errors have been fixed and some
      phraseology cleaned up.

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

   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.

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   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
      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

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      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'
   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 contributory
   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

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   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

   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 problems 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 WGs and the wider 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

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      either 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

   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 sufficiently granular milestones 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 estimates of the time required to complete the work often
      differ widely from the time actually taken.  The combination of
      these factors makes determining the feasibility of delivering
      within the required timeframe and then adjusting the scope of the
      work to fit the timeframe 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'.

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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.

   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 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

   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

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   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, and consequently
   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
   an adequate understanding of the systems and contexts in which the
   protocols might be used.  These problems appear to be two further
   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 and
   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 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 which has to be
      cleared to achieve PS, implementation or deployment experience is
      still not required, so that the IETF's guiding principle of 'rough
      consensus and running code' has less chance to be effective.

   o  There appears to be a vicious circle in operation in which vendors
      tend to deploy protocols that have reached PS as if they were
      ready for full production, rather than accepting that standards at
      PS level are still under development and could expected to alter

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      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.

   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 which can be demonstrated
      to have no or minimal effect on an existing protocol at DS or FS

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

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

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

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

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

   Whilst this might be put down to contributors having less time
   available in their work schedule during the downturn of the last two
   years, this is not the whole story because there were signs of this
   effect back at the height of the boom in 2000.

   This problem exacerbates the problems which 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 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, but that is now a
   long time ago, and the organization has undergone considerable
   further growth as well as extending the scope of its activities 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 ADs
   in the IESG).  This concentration slows up the process and puts a
   very large load of responsibility on to 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

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   helped by the widening of the scope of IETF which has resulted in
   somewhat more WGs and a need for a very broad spectrum of knowledge
   within the set of ADs.

2.6.2 Workload of the IESG

   With the current structure of the IETF and IESG, the workload imposed
   on each of the Area Directors (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 generally, 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

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      conflicts with their employers if the IETF work impacts on the
      IESG member's performance of their 'day job'.

   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 second 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 offence 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 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.

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

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 past.

   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

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   maximum assistance is available by such means as real time Jabber
   logs and extensive text on presentation slides. Even on mailing
   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 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 relationships.  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 and written plans and formal process
   documentation is very sparse, so that incoming ADs have little

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   information on which to base new relationships with WG chairs or
   Directorate members not already known to them.

   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 of 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 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

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   comes to light or additional experience is gained which appears to
   justify alternative conclusions for a closed issue.

   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 to
   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 a repeat of the 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

   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 by all stakeholders.
   Section 2.1 identifies that this shortage is a major problem.

   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 by 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

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   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
   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 and so
   leaving the IETF.

   In addition, some participants are not aware of the problems that
   participants, for whom English is not 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 problems identified.

4. IANA Considerations

   There are no IANA considerations defined in this document.

5. 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
   and contributions to the wording of Section 2.

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   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 something
   like 750 extensive and thoughtful contributions (some making 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.

Normative References

   [1]  Huitema, C. and P. Gross, "The Internet Standards Process --
        Revision 2", RFC 1602, March 1994.

Informative References

   [2]  Huston, G. and M. Rose, "A Proposal to Improve IETF
        Productivity", draft-huston-ietf-pact-00 (work in progress),
        October 2002.

   [3]  Blanchet, M., "Suggestions to Streamline the IETF Process",
        draft-blanchet-evolutionizeietf-suggestions-00 (work in
        progress), November 2002.

   [4]  Hardie, T., "Working Groups and their Stuckees",
        draft-hardie-wg-stuckees-00 (work in progress), February 2003.

   [5]  Davies (co-ed.), E. and J. Hofmann (co-ed.), "IETF Problem
        Resolution Processes", draft-ietf-problem-process-03 (work in
        progress), October 2003.

Author's Address

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

   Phone: +44 1279 405 498

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   Funding for the RFC Editor function is currently provided by the
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