Succession planning is all the rage in big corporations, and not only at Manchester United plc. The smooth and orderly transfer of power from chief executive to chief executive is essential if shareholders are not to be spooked.
For the House of Windsor - whose modern PR operation positively invites comparison with a wealthy corporation - the succession experience has not always been a happy one. Luckily for today's subjects, few have first-hand memories of the abdication crisis of 1936. Most of us have lived our whole lives secure in the knowledge that our head of state is a reassuringly fixed point in an unsettled world. Just thinking about the day when the Queen is no longer with us feels worse than disloyal - it stirs unspoken insecurity about our own mortality as individuals and even as a people.
Perhaps that is why there has been such a flap over news that the Queen has sensibly delegated attendance at November's Commonwealth heads of government meeting to her son and heir. Perhaps that is also why her son's attendance at yesterday's State Opening has been interpreted as especially significant, fuelling speculation about a new regency.
The picture says it all: two ladies in white wearing tiaras sit next to two admirals wearing lots of medals. Such is the youthfulness of the Queen and her Consort and such the maturity of her son and his wife that you could almost blink and think you are seeing double.
And that is how it will be. In the blink of an eye, one woman in white and an admiral will be replaced by a slightly younger model of each. The Beefeaters, the page boys and even the turgid words of the Speech will continue as before but the central characters will be played by today's understudies. That is the glory of our constitution, as we are plainly being reminded.
How does that make you feel? Perhaps you are reassured by this visible evidence of continuity. Perhaps - like many younger people - you wish it were William and Kate who were metaphorically warming up on the touchline. Or perhaps - like some of my American friends - you think it's all rather lovely and quaint but not really anything to do with the real world.
In any case, for better or worse, it doesn't matter what you think. It's a rhetorical question, since nobody's going to ask our opinion. So perhaps it would be more relevant to ask a different question: how does it make the Prince of Wales feel?
The approved answer would be along the lines that he serves in support of his mother and, insofar as he has spared the disagreeable prospect any thought at all, stands ready to wear the crown when it passes to him. If pressed, his advisers might mutter platitudes about sensible contingency planning and the need to be ready whenever the call should come. However, behind closed doors, the truth may be slightly different. Heirs by definition have to wait their turn and for some it has been an irksome burden. Edward VII, when Prince of Wales, famously chafed at having to wait while his mother Victoria sailed on into an interminable sunset.
Prince Charles - having served even longer as next in line - could be forgiven for feeling a touch of the same impatience. A life lived permanently on "pause" must become wearing, whatever the compensations. All the more credit to him that he has devoted his years of apprenticeship to serving the country he so obviously loves. Even more to his credit, he has never appeared publicly to be anything other than content to bide his time.
But in private he would hardly be human if his predicament did not touch a restless nerve. Their master's frustration will have been faithfully felt by his courtiers. These conscientious men and women are tasked with preparing for a drama-free transfer of the crown, and their boss's wishes on this sensitive subject will be familiar to them. So, either in accordance with his instructions or even in anticipation of them, the Prince's people have been busy not just with preparations for his Coronation but also for life thereafter. Nor will their hearts necessarily be heavy as they work: this could be their future, too, and they didn't get their feet on to royal red carpet without being healthily ambitious.
We are not allowed to know much about what that future will look like. This secrecy is very much in tune with our decent reluctance to contemplate in any detail the post-Elizabethan age. There are, though, hints of what the new administration will be like; you don't have to be a Clarence House Kremlinologist to spot them. Austerity is unlikely to trouble the new court very much, given the splendour of its current circumstances. Seeing the proliferation of ever-grander titles in the Prince's household, lovers of royalty's Ruritanian aspects can rest easy. Nor need constitutionalists worry, since the opinionated Prince will forswear his self-defined role as stoker of public controversy once he is on the throne. Or so they say.
The trouble with planning is that it acquires a momentum of its own. It sometimes seems that the Prince's strategists are unfettered by his own admirable reticence, with contingency planning now even felt in the distant reaches of royal charity and patronage.
The task facing the Prince's army of press officers must be particularly difficult, given their pro-active role in comparable succession media frenzies in the 1990s. Perhaps it was memories of an earlier zealous spin doctor - notoriously fond of a good regency tease - that yesterday provoked an audible smack from Buckingham Palace as it put down the latest speculation. That speculation will continue, however, not least thanks to the ambiguous role assigned to the Duchess of Cornwall. The image of Camilla in the House of Lords yesterday clearly presents her in the role of Queen-in-waiting alongside her King. It repeated the message of her regal pose at last week's succession ceremonies in Holland. These picture stories are helpfully accompanied by well-timed media references to her all-round queenliness.
Ever since the Prince's solemn assurance that Parker Bowles was no more than just "a good friend", respectful eyebrows have been raised at any mention of her official status. Will he really be content for his wife to be mere Princess-Consort?
For many loyal people, to be acknowledged by her husband as his queen is no more than her well-earned reward. For many others (no less loyal), the prospect of Camilla wearing the crown in public, as well as in private, may stir a more complicated mix of emotions. Perhaps that is why her hard-working official Tweeter has been tantalising us in recent days with Her Royal Highness's favourite recipe for pea soup.
The first days of the next reign will offer neither the leisure nor the cool objectivity required to resolve the consort issue. Yet consensus is essential for the smooth transfer of authority, itself the hallmark of democracy.
It's appropriate that the current succession debate has been given a Commonwealth dimension. Many of the elected leaders who will gather in Colombo in November might acknowledge the democratic tradition that is perhaps the most valuable legacy of their countries' experience of the British Crown.
Ironically, the King-Emperor who helped bring the Commonwealth into the world was crowned only as a result of the least smooth succession in modern history. Reluctant and unprepared, the Queen's father was propelled on to the throne by the failings of others.
He made the best of it, and earned his people's love by letting his innate sense of duty guide the way. We are lucky to have seen that simple instinct live on in his daughter and in the Commonwealth of which she is such a champion. Those who tweet of regency might be better employed praying our luck holds.
Patrick Jephson was Equerry and Private Secretary to HRH the Princess of Wales from 1988 to 1996