Work in progress or work in process (WIP) is a way of calculating the value of all the goods on your factory floor that are not quite finished. These goods are more valuable than raw materials because you've incurred some labor and overhead, but less valuable than finished goods that are ready for sale. As WIP will eventually convert to revenue, it's an asset for the business. You record it as such on the company's balance sheet.

Understanding Work in Progress

Say that ABC Corporation manufactures washing machines. It takes two weeks to make a washing machine. At the end of the month, the company counts its inventory. It has 5,000 completed washing machines ready for shipping and 2,000 partially completed machines. Once finished, the partially completed machines will be ready for sale and will convert to finished goods inventory. Until then, they are recorded as an asset under the heading "work in progress" on the company's balance sheet, similar to raw materials and inventory.

How to Calculate Work in Progress

To calculate the value of your work-in-progress inventory, you simply add together the cost of all the components you have consumed to reach this point in your production. Different businesses have different costs but generally, an accountant would compile all the raw material costs, direct labor costs and factory overhead associated with the work. The WIP entry is then recorded as a sum of these costs.

Breaking It Down

Manufacturing overhead includes all the costs that are not directly related to manufacturing the washing machines such as:

  • manager salaries
  • administrative expenses
  • rent
  • utilities
  • taxes
  • insurance
  • marketing expenses

Most companies rely on accountants to calculate an appropriate proportion of these costs.

Why Work In Progress Matters

Work in progress sits in the middle of your manufacturing process between raw materials and finished product. It clearly isn't worth as much as finished goods which are valued at your sales prices, but it is worth more than raw materials because you have incurred some overhead. While the bare WIP figure will not tell you very much, changes in WIP from one period to the next can reveal some key information about your company.

For example, an increase in WIP suggests one of two things: that you have more orders coming in, or that it's taking too long to get your products off the production line and into the hands of consumers. The former is a sign of business growth and managers may need to hire additional labor or raise capital to cope with demand; the latter suggests that your production process is not running smoothly. Customers do not buy partially completed goods so it's in a company's best interest to keep work in progress inventory as low as possible.