Dwight Eisenhower, who of course was a master of logistics as well as a general and U.S. president, was famous for having said:
In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.
In its own modest way the same could be said of content planning. Rare indeed would be the edition that comes together precisely the way it was planned. Stories and relatively priorities change. Cover concepts evolve through brainstorming and refinements. Ads come in (or don’t).
So is planning a waste of time? Absolutely not. Planning affords choices and flexibility – important factors both quantitatively (“do I have enough stuff?”) and qualitatively (“do I have enough GOOD stuff?”). In my own issue planning, this is how I’ve sort of liked to see the pipeline at any given time (and when I say “pipeline,” I mean content that is “in” or is “committed to and on its way”):
For instance, for the immediate next print issue I always want to have 125% of what I think I need because a story may fall through, an 8- or 16-page form may be unexpectedly added, etc. And I’m always trying to modulate that mix of timeless (often outside-authored) and timely (usually inside-written) – dialing up the relative ratio on the newsy stuff as each issue deadline approaches and as market conditions and audience needs dictate, knowing our staff editors can turn these timelier stories around on a dime and to our specifications without a whole lot of time-consuming to-and-fro at the 11th hour.
But no matter what your system is for planning – be it mighty or modest – know this: Any planning is better than none.