I work in a small engineering company whose engineering department consists of a small handful of engineers. We will generally have one or two major development projects ongoing, but are also required to support a multitude of existing products. Due to pressures from our holding company, a requirement has been demanded that in order to understand how much each of the various projects we work on cost, we need to be recording how much time we spend on them.
The reason for this requirement is because our department is the most expensive department in the company. The board of directors wants to understand where this money is going and how it's being spent. Hence they feel that if they measure our time and what we're working on, they'll better understand and justify the costs of the department. They're not doing this directly for client billing purposes.
We started to have a go at this using various apps to "clock in and out" and trying to use timesheets, but unfortunately it never worked because it very easy to forget to "clock in and out", especially when the main projects were interrupted by small minor tasks that were done during the day (e.g. problem occurs in a product that needs addressing, manufacturing problem needs sorting out). It seemed that such a method of recording time was more suited to a workshop/manufacturing environment where employees had very defined pre-planned tasks and weren't "interrupted" with sudden minor tasks that needed to be addressed immediately. We certainly quickly started to see it as an annoying bureaucratic hindrance. We've talked with our immediate manager (who comes from a manufacturing/workshop career), but she doesn't have any alternative ideas and is just trying to meet the demands of upper management.
I'm trying to find a solution to this problem. I believe that the main issue lies in the fact that, as a small company with few engineers, one or two major ongoing projects and many existing products to support, inevitably, things will crop up that need addressing, which means an engineer will need to break off their main task (sometimes for several days) and address those. However, I'm not sure how to go about solving that. I understand the need to reconcile employee time against projects to help with costing, but feel that time-recording is too bureaucratic and unsuited to the sometimes unpredictable working environment.
So, what can we do to the resolve the problem? Can time recording be applied in a non-intrusive and beneficial manner, or is it just not appropriate in this situation? Are there any other ways in which we can meet management's demands to reconcile employee time against projects? Or is the only solution to to try and fix the level of unpredictability we currently have?