Despite a plethora of tools, technologies and management systems, successful execution of big science and engineering projects remains problematic. The sheer scale of globally funded projects such as the Large Hadron Collider and the Square Kilometre Array telescope means that lack of project success can impact both on national budgets, and collaborative reputations. In this paper, I explore data from contemporary literature alongside field research from several current high-technology projects in Europe and Australia, and reveal common ‘pressure points’ that are shown to be key influencers of project control and success. I discuss the how mega-science projects sit between being merely complicated, and chaotic, and explain the importance of understanding multiple dimensions of project complexity. Project manager/leader traits are briefly discussed, including capability to govern and control such enterprises. Project structures are examined, including the challenge of collaborations. I show that early attention to building project resilience, curbing optimism, and risk alertness can help prepare large high-tech projects against threats, and why project managers need to understand aspects of ‘the silent power of time’. Mission assurance is advanced as a critical success function, alongside the deployment of task forces and new combinations of contingency plans. I argue for increased project control through industrial-style project reviews, and show how post-project reviews are an under-used, yet invaluable avenue of personal and organisational improvement. Lastly, I discuss the avoidance of project amnesia through effective capture of project knowledge, and transfer of lessons-learned to subsequent programs and projects.