An IT director I know had a dream last week. He was visited by the senior partner of the consultancy firm he had been using on one of his major projects.
The work was nearing completion, and the IT director, James, knew the consultancy would want to extend its contract.
James put on his negotiation hat, but decided to sit back, listen and assess the situation before jumping in at the deep end. As James had expected, it was the consultant who spoke first.
"As you know, the project we have been assisting you with is coming to an end. General opinion is that it has been an outstanding success, and I just wanted to thank you for using our company. I also wanted to let you know that, as long as you are happy with our work and contribution, we will be pulling our people out a week on Friday."
James was so taken aback that he simply stammered, "Fine, thank you," and shook the partner's hand.
He did, however, make a mental note to make sure he used this company again.
He needed fresh air, but before he had a chance to get it, his telephone rang. It was his chief executive officer.
James braced himself, and put on his grovelling hat. The chief executive said, "Just a quick call to say I received that new sales report from your department last night, and it is absolutely brilliant. It tells me everything I needed to know and I just wanted to say 'well done'."
This was becoming one of the strangest days James had ever experienced. However, it looked like taking a distinct turn for the worse when he met the claims director, Adam, at the coffee machine.
Adam was the business manager in charge of a major project that had just gone off the rails. It had been late, was over-budget and had absolutely no prospect of delivering what it was promising.
"Ah, James, I've been looking for you," Adam began. "I just wanted to have a quiet word with you about the project. As you know, I am the business owner for the project, and no matter what the cause of the problems, as the owner I am taking full responsibility for the problems. I want you to know that I will do whatever I can to resolve them."
James was too stunned to offer any response. Instead, he quickly returned to his office to recover.
As he did so, he saw a visitor waiting. His heart sank. She was from a supplier that James had agreed to see, because the company had talked about "guarantees" and "shared risk".
Digging into his memory bank, James thought, "Let's see if she remembers those words." This time, James felt confident enough to initiate the conversation.
"Diane, when we spoke on the phone, you said that you would share the risk on this project. What did you mean by that?"
There was a pause. Diane seemed to be struggling for a reply. James had his killer hat on for the first time that day.
The silence seemed to last an eternity. Diane spoke at last, "Yes, Mr Palmer, yes indeed. That is exactly what we will do - we will undertake to resolve the issues you face, and be paid strictly according to the results we achieve.
"If, at the end of the project, our product does not deliver what we say it will, you may have it completely free of charge."
This time, the silence that followed was far longer than the first. For the first time in more than six months, James put on his happy hat.
"That's strange," he thought, "it feels just like a pillow."
David Taylor is president of the association of IT directors, Certus. His collected columns, David Taylor's Inside Track, is published in Butterworth-Heinemann's Computer Weekly series. Contact 01865-888180.