101 Project Management Problems and How to Solve Them: Practical Advice for Handling Real-World Project Challenges


When you’re responsible for a project, large or small, things will go wrong. Even if you’re a skilled project veteran with a solid plan, things will happen that you least expect. And if you’re less experienced, there are a startling number of ways that your project can get into trouble. Despite your best efforts and intentions, there are plenty of problems and challenges that can—and often will—arise at any step and from any angle to derail your team’s hard work.

What you ...

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101 Project Management Problems and How to Solve Them: Practical Advice for Handling Real-World Project Challenges

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When you’re responsible for a project, large or small, things will go wrong. Even if you’re a skilled project veteran with a solid plan, things will happen that you least expect. And if you’re less experienced, there are a startling number of ways that your project can get into trouble. Despite your best efforts and intentions, there are plenty of problems and challenges that can—and often will—arise at any step and from any angle to derail your team’s hard work.

What you need—right away—are field-proven fixes, practical answers to urgent questions, and simple strategies for navigating around the unforeseen obstacles you’ll encounter throughout your project.

You can put that dry, unhelpful tome of academic theory back on the shelf. 101 Project Management Problems and How to Solve Them shows you how to:

• Keep your project on track despite unavoidable interruptions

• Prevent unreliable outside collaborators from jeopardizing the entire project

• Manage project teams who have little or no project management experience

• Make up for lost time without cutting corners

• Succeed in the face of threatened budget cuts

You’ll find out how to ensure good project management practices during organizational process changes . . . successfully deal with contributor hostility or reluctance during start-up . . . handle undependable contributors . . . bring new people up to speed on already-started projects . . . respond to increased demands from management after the project baseline has been set . . . work with limited resources . . . minimize potential late project testing failures and deliverable evaluation issues . . . manage a project through reorganizations, market shifts, and other external changes . . . and much more.

Arming you with immediately usable fixes to a wide range of real-world project challenges, this one-of-a-kind, on-the-job troubleshooter will help you deal effectively with whatever unexpected problems come your way—and get your project on track for success.

TOM KENDRICK is a project management consultant and former project management executive for Hewlett-Packard and for Visa Inc. He is the author of Identifying and Managing Project Risk, Results Without Authority, and The Project Management Tool Kit.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“If you are involved in managing projects of any size…this book will give you some good insights to common problems.” --Online magazine

“AMACOM does do good books and 101 Project Management Problems is no exception...provides practical advice for handling real-world project challenges.” --A Girl's Guide to Project Management

"... champions a common-sense approach to effectively managing projects." --MindEdge

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814415573
  • Publisher: AMACOM
  • Publication date: 12/1/2010
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 529,755
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

TOM KENDRICK is an internal project management consultant for Visa Inc., and a former project management executive for Hewlett-Packard. He is the author of Identifying and Managing Project Risk, Results Without Authority, and The Project Management Tool Kit.

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Read an Excerpt


‘‘It depends.’’

Project management problems frequently arise as questions, and

most good project management questions have the same answer: ‘‘It


By definition, each project is different from other projects, so no

specific solution for a given problem is likely to work exactly as well for

one project as it might for another. That said, there are general principles

that are usually effective, especially after refining the response with

follow-up questions, such as ‘‘What does it depend on?’’ For many of

the project management problems included in this book, the discussion

begins with some qualifications describing what the response depends

on and includes factors to consider in dealing with the issue at hand.

This book is based on questions I have been asked in classes and

workshops, and in general discussions on project management regarding

frequent project problems. The discussions here are not on theoretical

matters (‘‘What is a project?’’), nor do they dwell on the self-evident

or trivial. The focus here is on real problems encountered by project

managers working in the trenches, trying to get their projects done in

today’s stress-filled environment. These responses are based on what

tends to work, at least most of the time, for those of us who lead actual


Some problems here relate to very small projects. Others are about

very large projects and programs. Still others are general, and include

some guidance on how you might go about applying the advice offered

in a particular situation. In all cases, your judgment is essential to solving

your particular problems. Consider your specific circumstances and

strive to ‘‘make the punishment fit the crime.’’ Adapt the ideas offered

here if they appear helpful. Disregard them if the advice seems irrelevant

to your project.

Several general themes recur throughout. Planning and organization

are the foundations for good project management. Confront issues and

problems early, when they are tractable and can be resolved with the

least effort and the fewest people. Escalate as a last resort, but never

hesitate to do so when it is necessary. People will treat you as you treat

them, so act accordingly. Good relationships and trust will make solving

any problem easier—you really do get by with a little help from your


Given the broad spectrum of project types and the overwhelming

number of ways that they can get into trouble, it’s unlikely that this (or

any) book will effectively resolve all possible problems. Nonetheless, I

hope that this book will help you to successfully complete your projects,

while retaining some of your sanity in the process.

Good luck!

Tom Kendrick


San Carlos, CA

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Table of Contents


101 Project Management Problems and How to Solve Them

Table of Contents


Part 1: General

1          What personality type fits best into project management?

2          What are the traits of successful project managers?

3          I’m an experienced individual contributor, but very new to project management. How do I get my new project up and going?

4          What are the most important responsibilities of a project manager?

5          What is the value to project management certification? What about academic degrees in project management?

6          There are many project development methodologies. What should I consider when adopting standards such as the Project Management Institute PMBOK?

7          What are the key considerations when developing or revising a project life cycle? What should I consider when choosing between “waterfall” and “cyclic” (or “agile”) life cycles?

8          How can I efficiently run mini-projects (less than six months with few dedicated resources)?

9          How rigid and formal should I be when running a small project?

10      How do I handle very repetitive projects, such as product introductions?

11      How should I manage short, complex, dynamic projects?

12      How do I balance good project management practices with high pressure to “get it done?” How can I build organizational support for effective project planning and management?

13      How does project management differ between hardware and a software projects?

14      How many projects can a project manager realistically handle simultaneously?

15      How do I handle my day-to-day tasks along with managing a project?

16      How do I develop and maintain supportive sponsorship throughout a project?

17      What can I do when my project loses its sponsor?

18      How can I secure and retain adequate funding throughout my project?

19      Can the project management function be outsourced?

20      How can I ensure good project management practices during organizational processes changes?

21      What is the best structure for program management for ensuring satisfactory customer results?

     Part 2: Initiation 

22      How do I effectively manage customer expectations?

23      How can I reconcile competing regional/cross-functional agendas?

24      How should I effectively deal with contributor hostility or reluctance during start-up?

25      When is a project large enough to justify investing in a two-day project launch?

26      How do I establish control initially when my project is huge?

27      How should I initiate a new project with a new team, or using a new technology?

28      How should I evaluate and make “make vs. buy” project decisions?

29      How can I quickly engage good contract workers?

30      In a large project, when should I seek commitment for overall funding?

31      When working with extremely limited resources, how can I get my project completed without doing it all myself?

32      How should I initiate a project that has a relatively low priority?

33      How should I organize my Project Management Information System (PMIS) to facilitate access and avoid “too much data?”

      Part 3: Teamwork

34      How can I organize my team for maximum creativity, flexibility, and success?

35      How can I work effectively with other project teams and leaders who have very little project management experience?

36      How can I help team members recognize the value of using project management processes?

37      How do I keep people focused without hurting morale?

38      How can I involve my team in project management activities without increasing overhead?

39      How can I manage and build teamwork on a project team that includes geographically remote contributors?

40      How do secure team buy-in on global projects?

41      How can I best manage project contributors who are contract staff?

42      How do I cope with part-time team members with conflicting assignments?

43      How do you handle undependable contributors who impede project progress?

44      How should I manage informal communications and “management by wandering around” on a virtual, geographically distributed team?

45      When should I delegate down? Delegate up?

46      How can I best deal with project teams larger than twenty?

47      What can I do to manage my schedule when my project WBS becomes huge?

     Part 4: Planning 

48      How can I get meaningful commitment from team members that ensures follow through?

49      As a project manager, what should I delegate and what should I do myself?

50      Who should estimate activity durations and costs?

51      How do I improve the quality and accuracy of my project estimates?

52      What metrics will help me estimate project activity durations and costs?

53      How can I realistically estimate durations during holidays and other times when productivity decreases?

54      How can I develop realistic schedules?

55      How can I thoroughly identify and manage external dependencies?

56      How do I synchronize my project schedules with several related partners and teams?

57      How do I effectively plan and manage a project that involves invention, investigation, or multiple significant decisions?

58      How should I manage adoption of new technologies or processes in my projects?

59      How should I plan to bring new people up to speed during my projects?

60      How can I resolve staff and resource overcommitments?

61      How can I minimize the impact of scarce, specialized expertise I need for my project?

62      What is the best approach for balancing resources across several projects?

63      How can I minimize potential late project testing failures and deliverable evaluation issues?

64      How do I anticipate and minimize project staff turnover?

     Part 5: Execution 

65      How can I avoid having too many meetings?

66      How can I ensure owner follow-through on project tasks and action items?

67      How do I keep track of project details without things falling through the cracks?

68      How can I avoid having contributors game their status metrics?

69      What are the best ways to communicate project status?

70      How can I manage my project successfully despite high-priority interruptions?

71      What are the best project management communication techniques for remote contributors?

72      How do I establish effective global communications? What metrics can I use to track communication?

73      On fee-for-service projects, how do you balance customer and organizational priorities?

74      How do I survive a late-project work bulge, ensuring both project completion and team cohesion?

75      How do I coordinate improvements and changes to processes we are currently using on our project?

     Part 6: Control

76      How much project documentation is enough?

77      How can I ensure all members on my multi-site team have all the information they need to do their work?

78      How can I manage overly constrained projects effectively?

79      How do I keep my project from slipping? If it does, how do I recover its schedule?

80      What are the best practices for managing schedule changes?

81      How can I effectively manage several small projects that don't seem to justify formal project management procedures?

82      What are good practices for managing complex, multi-site projects?

83      How do I best deal with time zone issues?

84      How can I manage changes to the project objective in the middle of my project?

85      How should I respond to increased demands from management after the project baseline has been set?

86      How can I avoid issues with new stakeholders, especially on global projects?

87      What should I do when team members fail to complete tasks, citing "regular work" priorities?

88      What is the best way manage my project through reorganizations, market shifts, or other external changes?

89      How should I deal with having too many decision makers?

90      How should I manage multi-site decision making?

91      What can I do when people claim that they are too busy to provide status updates?

92      How can I effectively manage projects where the staff is managed by others?

93      How can I minimize unsatisfactory deliverable and timing issues when outsourcing?

94      How should I manage reviews for lengthy projects?

95      What should I do to establish control when taking over a project where I was not involved in the scoping or planning?

    Part 7: Tools

96      What should I consider when adopting technology-based communication tools?

97      How should I select and implement software tools for project documentation, scheduling, and planning?

98      What should I consider when setting up a software tool I will be using to coordinate many interrelated projects?

   Part 8: Closing

99      How should I realistically assess the success and value of my project management processes?

100   What are good practices for ending a canceled project?

101   How can I motivate contributors to participate in project retrospective analysis?

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First Chapter

101 Project Management Problems and How to Solve Them

Practical Advice for Handling Real-World Project Challenges
By Tom Kendrick


Copyright © 2011 Tom Kendrick
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8144-1557-3

Chapter One


1. What personality type fits best into project management?

Depends on:

* The type and scale of the project

* Experience of the project team

Understanding Personality Types

There are a large number of models used to describe personalities. One of the most prevalent is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). One of its factors describes a spectrum between introversion and extroversion. Projects are about people and teams, so good project leaders tend to be at least somewhat extroverted. Introverted project managers may find their projects wandering out of control because they are insufficiently engaged with the people responsible for the work.

A second factor is the dichotomy between a preference for observable data and a preference for intuitive information. Projects are best managed using measurable facts that can be verified and tested. A third factor relates to whether decisions are based on logical objective analysis or on feelings and values. Projects, especially technical projects, proceed most smoothly when decisions are based on consistent, analytical criteria.

The fourth MBTI factor is the one most strongly aligned with project management, and it describes how individuals conduct their affairs. On one extreme is the individual who plans and organizes what must be done, which is what project management is mostly about. On the other extreme is the individual who prefers to be spontaneous and flexible. Projects run by this sort of free spirit tend to be chaotic nightmares, and may never complete.

Considering Other Factors

Project managers need to be "technical enough." For small, technical projects, it is common for the project leader to be a highly technical subject matter expert. For larger programs, project managers are seldom masters of every technical detail, but generally they are knowledgeable enough to ensure that communications are clear and status can be verified. On small, technical projects, the project manager may be a technical guru, but that becomes much less important as the work grows. Large-scale projects require an effective leader who can motivate people and delegate the work to those who understand the details.

Good project managers are detail oriented, able to organize and keep straight many disparate activities at a time. They are also pragmatic; project management is more about "good enough" than it is about striving for perfection. All of this relates to delivering business value—understanding the trade-offs between time, scope, and cost while delivering the expected value of the project to the organization.

Finally, good project managers are upbeat and optimistic. They need to be liked and trusted by sponsors and upper management to be successful. They communicate progress honestly, even when a project runs into trouble. Retaining the confidence of your stakeholders in times of trouble also requires communicating credible strategies for recovery. Effective leaders meet challenges with an assumption that there is a solution. With a positive attitude, more often than not, they find one.

2. What are the habits of successful project managers?

Effective project leaders have a lot in common with all good managers. In particular, good project managers are people oriented and quickly establish effective working relationships with their team members.

Defining Your Working Style

One of the biggest differences between a project manager and an individual contributor is time fragmentation. People who lead projects must be willing to deal with frequent interruptions. Project problems, requests, and other imperatives never wait for you to become unbusy, so you need to learn how to drop whatever you are doing, good-naturedly, and refocus your attention. Project leaders who hide behind "do not disturb" signs and lock their doors run the risk of seeing trivial, easily addressed situations escalate into unrecoverable crises. Between urgent e-mails, phone calls, frequent meetings, and people dropping in, project managers don't generally have a lot of uninterrupted time. You may need to schedule work that demands your focus and concentration before the workday begins, or do it after everyone has left for the day.

This is a crucial part of being people oriented. Project leaders who find that they are not naturally comfortable dealing with others tend to avoid this part of the job and as a consequence may not stick with project management very long, by either their own choice or someone else's. Being people oriented means enjoying interaction with others (while being sensitive to the reality that some of your team members may not relish interaction as much as you do) and having an aptitude for effective written communication and conversations.

Referring to an Old List

As part of a workshop on project management some time ago, I challenged the participants in small groups to brainstorm what they thought made a good project leader. The lists from each group were remarkably similar, and quite familiar. In summary, what they came up with is that good project managers:

* Can be counted on to follow through

* Take care of their teams

* Willingly assist and mentor others

* Are sociable and get along with nearly everyone

* Are respectful and polite

* Remain even tempered, understanding, and sympathetic

* Can follow instructions and processes

* Stay positive and upbeat

* Understand and manage costs

* Are willing to "speak truth to power"

* Act and dress appropriately

Reviewing the results, I realized that the items from the brainstorming closely mirrored those of another list, one familiar to lots of eleven-year-old boys for about a century; that list is "the Scout Law." The version I'm most familiar with is the one used by the Boy Scouts of America, but worldwide other variants (for Girl Scouts, too) are essentially the same.

Effective project leaders are trustworthy; they are honest, can be relied upon, and tell the truth. They are loyal, especially to the members of their team. Project managers are helpful, pitching in to ensure progress and working to build up favors with others against the inevitable need that they will need a favor in return some time soon. Wise project leaders remain friendly even to those who don't cooperate, and they value diversity. They are also courteous, because the cooperation that projects require is built on respect. Project managers are generally kind, treating others as they would like to be treated. We are also obedient, following rules and abiding by organizational standards. Good project managers are cheerful; when we are grumpy no one cooperates or wants to work with us. We are thrifty, managing our project budgets. Effective project leaders also need to be brave, confronting our management when necessary. Good project managers are also "clean." It is always a lot easier to engender respect and lead people when we are not seen as sloppy or having low standards. (Actually, there is a twelfth item on the Boy Scout list: Reverent. Although it did not come up in the brainstorm, praying for miracles is not uncommon on most projects.)

3. I'm an experienced individual contributor but very new to project management. How do I get my new project up and going?

Depends on:

* Availability of mentoring, training, and other developmental assistance in your organization

* Your aptitude for leading a team and any applicable previous experience you have

* The experience of the team you are planning to lead

Getting Started

Initiation into project management often involves becoming an "accidental project manager." Most of us get into it unexpectedly. One day you are minding our own business and doing a great job as a project contributor. Suddenly, without warning, someone taps you on the shoulder and says, "Surprise! You are now a project manager."

Working on a project and leading a project would seem to have a lot in common, so selecting the most competent contributors to lead new projects seems fairly logical. Unfortunately, the two jobs are in fact quite different. Project contributors focus on tangible things and their own personal work. Project managers focus primarily on coordinating the work of others. The next two problems discuss the responsibilities and personality traits of an effective project manager, but if you are entirely new to project leadership you will first also need to set up a foundation for project management. Novice project managers will need to invest time gaining the confidence of the team, determining their approach, and then delegating work to others.

Engaging Your Team

Gaining the confidence of your contributors can be a bit of a challenge if you are inexperienced with team leadership. Some people fear dogs, and dogs seem to know this and unerringly single out those people to bother. Similarly, a project manager who is uncomfortable is instantly obvious to the project team members, who can quickly destroy the confidence of their team leader at the first signs of indecision, hesitancy, or weakness. Although you may have some coverage from any explicit backing and support of sponsors, managers, and influential stakeholders, you need to at least appear to know what you are doing. It's always best to actually know what you are doing, but in a pinch you can get away with a veneer of competence. Your strongest asset for building the needed confidence of your team as a novice project manager is generally your subject matter expertise. You were asked to lead the project, and that was probably a result of someone thinking, probably correctly, that you are very good at something that is important to the project. Work with what you know well, and always lead with your strengths. Remember that "knowledge is power."

Seek a few early wins with your team, doing things like defining requirements, setting up processes, or initial planning. Once the pump is primed, people will start to take for granted that you know what you are doing (and you might also). Establishing and maintaining teamwork is essential to good project management, and there are lots of pointers on this throughout the book.

Choosing Your Approach

For small projects, a stack of yellow sticky notes, a whiteboard to scatter them on, and bravado may get you through. For most projects, though, a more formalized structure will serve you better. If possible, consult with an experienced project manager whom you respect and ask for mentoring and guidance. If training on project management is available, take advantage of it. Even if you are unable to schedule project management training in time for your first project, do it as soon as you can. This training, whenever you can sandwich it in, will help you to put project management processes in context and build valuable skills. Attending training will also show you that all the other new project managers are at least as confused as you are. If neither mentoring nor training is viable, get a good, thin book on project management and read through the basics. (There are a lot of excellent very large books on project management that are useful for reference, but for getting started, a 1,000-page tome or a "body of knowledge" can be overwhelming. Start with a "Tool Kit," "for Dummies" book, "Idiot's Guide," or similarly straightforward book on project management. You may also want to seek out a book written by someone in your field, to ensure that most of it will make sense and the recommendations will be relevant to your new project.)

Decide how you are going to set up your project, and document the specific steps you will use for initiation and planning. You will find many useful pointers for this throughout the problems discussed in the initiating and planning parts later in this book.

Delegating Work

One of the hardest things for a novice project manager to do is to recognize that project leadership is a full-time job. Leading a project effectively requires you to delegate project work to others—even work that you are personally very good at. Despite the fact that you may be better and faster at completing key activities than any of your team members, you cannot hope to do them all yourself while running a successful project. At first, delegating work to others who are less competent than you are can be quite difficult, even painful. You need to get over it. If you assign significant portions of the project work to yourself, you will end up with two full-time jobs: leading the project by day and working on the project activities you should have delegated at night and on weekends. This leads to exhaustion, project failure, or both.

4. What are the most important responsibilities of a project manager?

Depends on:

* Role: Project coordinator, Project leader, Project manager, Program manager

* Organizational requirements and structure

Overall Responsibilities

The job of a project manager includes three broad areas:

1. Assuming responsibility for the project as a whole

2. Employing relevant project management processes

3. Leading the team

Precisely what these areas entail varies across the spectrum of roles, from the project coordinator, who has mostly administrative responsibilities, to the program manager, who may manage a hierarchy of contributors and leaders with hundreds of people or more. Regardless of any additional responsibilities, though, the following three areas are required: understanding your project, establishing required processes, and leading your team.

Understanding Your Project

In most cases, regardless of your role description, you own the project that has your name on it. The project size and the consequences of not succeeding will vary, but overall the buck stops with you.

It is up to you to validate the project objective and to document the requirements. As part of this, develop a clear idea of what "done" looks like, and document the evaluation and completion criteria that will be used for project closure. A number of the problems in the project initiation part of this book address this concern, but in general it's essential that you reach out to your sponsor, customer, and other stakeholders and gain agreement on this—and write it down.

You also have primary responsibility for developing and using a realistic plan to track the work through to completion, and for acceptably achieving all requirements in a timely way.

Establishing Required Processes

The processes used for managing projects include any that are mandated by your organization plus any goals that you define for your specific project. Key processes for your project include communications, planning, and execution. For communications, determine how and when you will meet and how often you will collect and send project information and reports. Also determine where and how you will set up your project management information system or archiving project information. For planning, establish processes for thorough and realistic project analysis, including how you will involve your team members. Executing and controlling processes are also essential, but none is more important than how you propose to analyze and manage project changes. There are many pointers on all of this throughout the problems in the project initiation part of this book.

Setting up processes and getting buy-in for them is necessary, but it is never sufficient. You must also educate the members of your team and relevant stakeholders to ensure that everyone understands the processes they have committed to. Also establish appropriate metrics for process control and use them diligently to monitor work throughout your project.

Leading Your Team

The third significant responsibility is leading the team. Leadership rests on a foundation of trust and solid relationships. Effective project managers spend enough time with each team member to establish strong bonds. This is particularly difficult with distributed teams, but if you invest in frequent informal communications and periodic face-to-face interactions you can establish a connection even with distant contributors. You will find many helpful suggestions for dealing with this throughout the part of this book on teamwork.

Projects don't succeed because they are easy. Projects succeed because people care about them. Leadership also entails getting all project contributors to buy in to a vision of the work that matters to them personally. You must find some connection between what the project strives to do and something that each team member cares about. Uncovering the "what's in it for me?" factor for everyone on the team is fundamental to your successful leadership.


Excerpted from 101 Project Management Problems and How to Solve Them by Tom Kendrick Copyright © 2011 by Tom Kendrick. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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