A pipeline control system is distributed over the functional units (15, 17, 20, 25) in a processor (10). Decoder logic (12) issues operations, each with an associated tag, to the functional units, with up to n operations allowed to be outstanding. The units execute the operations and report termination information back to the decoder logic, but do not irrevocably change the state of the machine. Based on the termination information, the decoder logic retires normally terminated operations in order. If an operation terminates abnormally, the decoder logic instructs the units to back out of those operations that include and are later than the operation that terminated abnormally.