Absolute, or almost absolute is the answer to your question. He obivously wasn't able to direct every micromanagement move but almost. This is realized through four things:
((My answer contains spoilers from this point onwards.))
- Separatist Movement - or the Confederacy of Independent Systems:
The separatist movement is comprised of of planets and system under the control of the trade federation(Introduced in EP I, Orbit above Naboo), the Techno Union(Introduced in EPII, Geonosis), the Banking Clan(Introduced in EP II, Geonosis) and many other minor planetary bodies / companies.
What we learn in Episode One is that the Vice Roy of the Trade Federation - Nute Gunray - obivously is under complete control of Darth Sidious - he obeys his will and lets him direct the course of actions taken, obivously thinking he will - somehow - benefit from the pact with the Darth. However, it is obivous to me that he didn't knew what he was getting himself into when he signed said pact as later on when Darth Sidious introduces him and his advisor to Darth Maul who is his apprentience, the both of them discuss:
DARTH SIDIOUS : (Cont'd) ...Viceroy, this is my apprentice. Lord Maul. He
will find your lost ship.
NUTE : Yes, My Lord. The hologram fades off.
NUTE : (Cont'd) This is getting out of hand...now there are two of them.
RUNE : We should not have made this bargain. What will happen when the Jedi
become aware of these Sith Lords?
Making this move, Darth Sidious ensures that Darth Maul oversees every move of the vice roy as soon as they meet up with him on Naboo and thus he cannot just cancel their initial agreement and let the Sith down.
-> He ensures the control over the Trade Federation which up to this point is the core of the intended separatist movement
As the events of Episode I unfold, Darth Maul gets killed and the Vice Roy alongside his advisors are arrested and put to trial which, as Darth Sidious influences it this way, is won by them and they are released later on.
What we learn in Episode II is that Count Dooku, now known as Darth Tyranus, left the Order of the Jedi and became the - up to this point - last of the lost jedi. Prior to his, the one way or the other, thats actually not backed by the movie canon, Darth Sidious learns of the clone army that is prepared for the republic by Sifo-Dyas the Jedi Master and sends Darth Tyranus their way to proove his loyality. He kills Sifo-Dyas and ensures the army of the republic is not discovered prior to his own intends by sending him back to Coruscant where he deletes everything concerning Kamino (location of the clone army) including its location after which he leaves Coruscant and the actual Jedi Order to start forming the separatist movement on behalf of Darth Sidious who was busy undermining the republic meanwhile.
Darth Tyranus unites the Banking Clan(Money), the Techno Union(Technology) and the Trade Federation(Ressources) under the banner of the CIS on Geonosis.
Given these three factions make up the bulk of the CIS at first with Darth Tyranus being their obivous leader (I strongly believe that only Nute Gunray and his advisors knew of Darth Sidious at this point and that Darth Tyranus was acting on his behalf.) Darth Sidious ensured absolute control of every movement of said factions.
As the events of Episode II unfold, the clone wars start with an initial defeat of the CIS - the war has started. The war, as we will learn later on, isn't a real war but rather a masterpiece of art.
In Episode III we learn:
Darth Tyranus who was ordered by Darth Sidious orders General Grievous, a Kaleesh cyborg-warlord, to caputre chancellor Palpatine - further distracting people from the assumption that Palpatine might be Darth Sidious (See the clone wars series for a few references as to how the jedi started to actually figure out who Darth Sidious might be over time.). General Grievous, by then defacto 3IC of CIS, knew of Darth Sidious but he didn't knew Palatine = Darth Sidious either. Playing Darth Sidious into the cards, Obi-Wan and Anakin come to "his rescue". Count Dooku gets killed (More on this later.) and Grievous replacing him as 2IC of CIS.
Darth Sidious balanced and directed the war, making it look like every side was close to winning but in fact, no side made real advances. However, with time coming, Darth Sidious fears raised that the Jedi might come behind his secret plot plus he did fear that the CIS might surrender against his will because even General Grievous started to worry about the course of the war. He moved the leaders of the separatist alliance to Mustafar and sacrificies Grievous by telling Anakin about the position of the CIS council, who informs the Jedi Council who sends out Obi-Wan and a large number of clones to eliminate the enemy at once.
A hologram of Darth Sidious appears.
GENERAL GRIEVOUS: Yes, Lord Sidious.
DARTH SlDIOUS: General Grievous, I suggest you move the Separatist leaders >to Mustafar.
GENERAL GRIEVOUS: It will be done, My Lord.
DARTH SlDIOUS: The end of the war is near, General, and I promise you, >victory is assured.
The hologram of Sidious talks to GRIEVOUS about the death of Count Dooku.
GENERAL GRIEVOUS: But the loss of Count Dooku?
DARTH SlDIOUS: His death was a necessary loss, which will ensure our >victory. Soon I will have a new apprentice . . . one far younger and more >powerful than Lord Tyranus.
the fact that Grievous assumed the position of Count Dooku and thus has authority over the council of CIS members (And thus, being Darth Sidious minion, he still has direct control of CIS) is symbolized in the following scene:
GENERAL GRIEVOUS stands before the COUNCIL OF SEPARATISTS, including NUTE >GUNRAY, RUNE HAAKO. POGGLE THE LESSER, SHU MAI, SAN HILL PO NUDO, WAT >TAMBOR, and PASSEL ARGENTE. OBI-WAN hides above the assembly and watches >intently.
GENERAL GRIEVOUS: It won't be long before the armies of the Republic track >us here. I am sending you to the Mustafar system in the Outer Rim. It is a >volcanic planet which generates a great deal of scanning interference. You >will be safe there.
NUTE GUNRAY: Safe? Chancellor Palpatine managed to escape your grip, >General, without Count Dooku. I have doubts about your ability to keep us >safe.
GENERAL GRIEVOUS: Be thankful, Viceroy, you have not found yourself in my >grip . . . Your ship is waiting.
This being said, Darth Sidious ensured the war could go on, if something failed in the last step of his plan.
As the events of Episode II unfold, Grievous gets killed, Darth Sidious reveals his true ambitions to Anakin and Anakin in the end kills the remaining CIS head, informing the CIS forces that they have to immediately surrender to the forces of the Republic.
-> Darth Sidious had complete control of the CIS. From its formation to the end of the faction.
What we learn in Epsiode I: Palpatine starts his career on Naboo and after some failed elections (Extended Universe information here!) makes it to become Senator of Naboo and is granted a seat in the senate. Once this is done, he starts to influence people his way: He has wisdom and is smart, his old appearance (Which is actually a force mask, more to this later on.) makes it look like he knows what he is doing. By sending the Trade Federation to create the blockade of Naboo and turning in a desire for an investigation on the matter by the senate, he achives two things:
(1) he makes himself known to the senate members
(2) he manages to have Amidala believing the current chancellor was weak and unable to bring a decision in favor of democracy and first and foremost - Naboo. He always tells people that he wants to stop and reduce bureaucracy but infact, he encourages it behind the scenes. During the discussion for the investigation, the Trade Federation representatives do not want the investigation to happen and want to form a commission to check out whats going on in Naboo for real:
AMIDALA : Honorable representatives of the Republic, distinguished
delegates, and Your Honor Supreme Chancellor Valorum, I come to you under
the gravest of circumstances. The Naboo system has been invaded by force.
Invaded...against all the laws of the Republic by the Droid Armies of the
LOTT DOD : I object! There is no proof. This is incredible. We recommend a
commision be sent to Naboo to assertain the truth.
VALORUM : Overruled.
LOTT DOD : Your Honor, you cannot allow us to be condemned without
reasonable observation. It's against all the rules of procedure.
A third box representing Malastare moves into the center of the room. AKS
MOE, the Ambassador, addresses the convention.
AKS MOE : The Congress of Malastare concurs with the honorable delegate
from the Trade Federation. A commision must be appointed...that is the law.
Obivously the chancellor does not like the idea and wants to object, but a guy, Mas Amedda, who is on the paylist of Darth Sidious by then, steps into it, symbolizing the rule of bureaucrats to Queen Amidala steps in and everything, es seen below is conducted as Darth Sidious wants it to take part:
VALORUM : The point...
VALORUM confers with several of his AIDES and VICE CHAIRMAN MAS AMEDDA.
PALPATINE whispers something to the QUEEN.
PALPATINE : Enter the bureaucrats, the true rulers of the Republic, and on
the payroll of the Trade Federation, I might add. This is where Chancellor
Valorum's strength will dissapear.
VALORUM : The point is conceded...Section 523A take precedence here. Queen
Amidala of the Naboo, will you defer your motion to allow a commission to
explore the validity of your accusations?
QUEEN AMIDALA is angry but remains composed.
AMIDALA : (angrily) I will not defer...I have come before you to resolve
this attack on our sovereignty now. I was not elected to watch my people
suffer and die while you discuss this invasion in a committee. If this body
is not capable of action, I suggest new leadership is needed. I move for a
"vote of no confidence"...in Chancellor Valorum's leadership.
VALORUM : What?...No!
As the events of Episode I unfold, Valorum gets the boot and Darth Sidious replaces him as the supreme chancellor of the republic.
What we learn in Episode II is that Darth Sidious, as chanellor of the republic makes it look like he had no real power in the senate either. By starting the formation of the CIS "by Darth Tyranus" he finds himself a reason to be elected towards emergency rights that allow him to form an army and even more. Just in time, as it appears, to win the battle of Geonosis.
What we learn in Episode III is that Darth Sidious is almostly taking over the entire republic and thus, he is able to coordinate the republics entire course of war. Soldiers are sent out on his recommendations, war is conducted following his course. In the end, as we all know, Palpatine takes over and is applauded by the audiences for doing so.
-> As soon as he claimed the chair of chancellor, he took over the republic completely and there surely was no turning back.
The Jedi do not include his plot in Episode I and II at a large scale, even though his final goal is their annihilation. In Episode I and II, he learns of Anakin and senses his power through the force and slowly lures him over to the dark side, by first pretending to be the father figure he never had in his life and later on planting dark thoughts into his mind.
In Episode III, his plans for the Jedi, namely their destruction unfolds:
The Jedi are used as Generals, against their initial will:
But if they do, you must realise
there aren't enough Jedi to
protect the Republic. We are
keepers of the peace, not soldiers.
And thus loose reputation during the course of the war.
He also starts to directly influence Anakin. He realizes the last phase of his plan is about to begin when he convinces Anakin to kill Darth Tyranus after he has beaten said Darth:
PALPATINE: Good, Anakin, good. I knew you could do it. Kill him. Kill him >now!
ANAKIN: I shouldn't . . .
PALPATINE: Do it!!
ANAKIN cuts off COUNT DOOKU's head.
After this, Darth Sidious knows its time for Anakin to turn and knowing of his fears for Padme (Because he acutally implanted these visions or at least, made them stronger since he knew about Anakin havin' such visions when his mother died by the Tusken) he found the perfect way. He informed Anakin that Grievous is at Utapau, who in turn informs the Council of the Jedi who send out Obi-Wan Kenobi to finish off Grievous. After Obi-Wan reports to have killed Grievous, the Jedi council see the time come that negotitations should be started with the CIS so that they can surrender because they're left with a military leader - they want the chancellor to give back the emergency rights he gained so that the senate can start the process of peace making.
Remember, the Jedi at this point, as its before Anakin informing them Palpatine = Darth Sidious, didn't know who Darth Sidious was for real, Master Windu was the only person to think he was just evil and still had no clue who Darth Sidious was. So, knowing of the rule of two:
MACE WINDU : There is no doubt. The mysterious warrior was a Sith.
YODA : Always two there are....no more...no less. A master and an
MACE WINDU : But which one was destroyed, the master or the apprentice?
they have suspected by then that Darth Tyranus was the Sith who was either apprentience or master to Darth Maul because, by then, it seemed clear that Darth Tyranus was an evil guy, even wearing the title and name of Darth Tyranus publically.
So, assuming the CIS was without a head, they went up to the office of Darth Sidious and wanted him to give back his power. One their way, Anakin catches up with them and tells them that Palpatine = Darth Sidious. The four Jedi march up to the office and it seems that for a moment, Mace Windu beats Palpatine which is, given all the discussion that arise around this crucial moment, taken as granted not the fact. Palpatine pretends to be beaten JUST the moment Anakin arrives = he could have continiued to fight and kill Mace Windu with as much ease as he killed the other three Jedi but he didn't. Joining the scene, Anakin, meanwhile Darth Sidious' unwilling servant, arrives in time to see Mace deflecting Darth Sidious' lightning and crippling Darth Sidious. Infact, Darth Sidious was crippled before, he used Sith alchemy to build a force mask to conceal his Dark Side crippled body - a mask that was destroyed by the reflected lightning. (As I can see the usual arguments pop up at this place - Look at Luke or Anakin when the get hit with lightning, they obivously have pain and some of their skin might be burned, but lightning does not transform their eyes and their teeths, whilst, in Episode III after killing the younglings, Anakins eyes start to turn and match the ones of Palpatine - so he was clearly wearing a force mask.) Anakin, only caring about Darth Sidious surviving because of Padme, disables Mace who is, in turn, shocked down the window and down to the streets of Coruscant by the "I'm so weak - POWERRRRRRRRRRRRRR! UNLIMITED POWERRRRR!" - Darth Sidious. Resulting in order 66, resulting in the almost anihilation of the Jedi.
-> Palpatine had full control of the Jedi, sent them out where he wanted to, made it look like they're bad and as soon as they noticed his betrayal - it was too late for any reaction.
The last thing he obivously did was placing spies everywhere. You can rest assured that in each planning room either someone directly answering to him in a way or someone answering to someone who answered to him in a way was placed so that he knew of events long before they unfolded in the war and thus he could manipulate almost everything according to his own desires.