Waterfall Chart How-To &Template

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We’ve got everything you need to understand the basics of a waterfall chart—including why you might need it, when to use it, and how to create your own. And if you don’t have time to create your own, we’ve created a template for you!

Let’s start with the basics.

What is a waterfall chart?

You might have heard it referred to as a “waterfall graph” or maybe a “bridge graph,” but it’s all the same. The point of the waterfall chart is to show both positive (yes!) and negative (no!) values over a period of time, while pointing out the initial and end values as well.

Whether it’s company profit, inventory, or overall sales, the waterfall chart is a useful little tool to get a quick overview and make sense of all the numbers and how things are going.

Why would I need a waterfall chart?

Why wouldn’t you? Everybody needs a waterfall chart in their life, right?

Okay, that might be a stretch. But if you found this page, we’re guessing you probably are in hot pursuit of a waterfall chart that will make your life much easier.

Here are a few examples of when using a waterfall chart makes sense:

  • Analyzing sales and inventory over time
  • Evaluating profit
  • Comparing product earnings
  • Illustrating employee growth
  • Showing budget changes over time
  • Highlighting product value over time

How do I create a waterfall chart in Excel?

We’re  glad you asked. And, actually, we’re here to help.

We’ve already created a free, downloadable Excel waterfall chart template for you. Unless you want to spend 48 hours (slight exaggeration) typing numbers into a spreadsheet, then we recommend you download this beautiful little template and blow the socks off your friend and co-workers. We’ll even let you take credit for all the work!

If you’re dead set on making the waterfall chart on your own, just because you’re nerdy like that, then we get it. We’re ready to help with that too.

Whether you have a PC or a Mac, these instructions will work for you.

Step 1:  Grab your data set in a table format

For our example, we started with something simple, monthly income. You’ll see varying numbers based on positive or negative income for each month.

Adding your waterfall chart data in table format in Excel
  • We already have one column—sales number. Now add three additional columns to our Excel waterfall chart (pictured below). We’ll name them “base,” “up,” and “down.” The base column shows the starting point for the up and down income flow throughout the chart.
  • Type your negative income numbers into the “down” column and the positive income into the “up” column.
  • Be sure to add a “start” and “end” row so you’ll see total numbers for the entire year.

Got it?

Formatting your waterfall chart data set in Excel

Let’s move on.

Step 2: Add formulas

Inputting formulas into Excel might look like Greek, but it’s not that hard. Add the formulas to the first cells in each column, then use the fill tool to copy them down throughout the column.

  • For the Down column, select C7 and enter formula: =IF(E7<=0, -E7, 0)
Entering formulas into the Down column of your Excel waterfall chart

Drag the fill tool to the end of the column to copy the formula. Your chart should now look like this:

Use the drag and fill tool to copy the formula to the rest of the column in your waterfall chart
  • Next, select D4 in the Up column and enter this formula: =IF(E4>0, E4,0)
Applying formulas to the Up column in your Excel waterfall chart

Use the fill tool to drag the formula down to the end of the column again. Now your Excel waterfall chart should look like this. If so, well done.

Use the drag and fill feature to apply the formula to the rest of the Up column in your waterfall chart
  • Select B4 in the chart and enter this formula: =B3+D3-C4.
Adding a formula to the Base column in your waterfall chart data set

Use the fill tool to drag the formula down to the bottom of the column again. And (boom!) your waterfall chart should now look like this.

Use the drag and fill tool to apply the formula to the remaining cells in the Base column of your waterfall chart in Excel

Moving on…

Step 3:  Make your data table a column chart

Sounds fancy, yeah? It’s not.

But you’re going to need it.

  • Highlight all the data you want to include in your chart. Be sure to include your headers and leave out the Income Flow column.
Highlight the table data you want to feature in the column chart
  • Find the insert tab in your menu.
  • Click “chart” then select “stacked chart” from the list.

Now you’ve got yourself a stacked chart.

Example of your table data in a stacked chart in Excel

Look at that! It’s got your numbers and everything. However, it’s not a waterfall chart. Not yet. Let’s make that happen, shall we?

Step 4: Turn your stacked chart into a waterfall chart

Everyone has a little room for growth, including our dear stacked chart. We’re ready to grow our stacked chart into a wonderful, well-respected waterfall chart.

  • Click on the Base series, then right click and select “Format Data Series” from the dropdown.
Format data series to turn your stacked chart into a waterfall chart in Excel

When the “Format Data Series” pops up:

  • Click on Fill in the left menu, then “No Fill” in the color dropdown box.
  • Do the same thing with the “Line” section.
Format fill and line in data series for waterfall chart

With the base section now excommunicated from our Excel waterfall chart, we can take it out of the legend.

  • Right-click on “Base” in the legend, then select “Delete” from the dropdown.
Delete the Base series from your chart legend

You’ve now created a basic waterfall chart. But if you’re like us, you don’t  go for basic. We’ll talk about how to make your chart pretty.

Customize your waterfall chart

Your Excel waterfall chart’s a little drab, and you want to spice it up a bit. Maybe add some color, a few more details for context, and give it a title.

Making your chart stand out

In our example above, we want to differentiate between our Up and Down columns.

  • Select the Down series, right click, then select “Format Data Series.”
  • Select Fill, then pick the color you want. We went with blue to make it stand out more.
  • Do the same with the Line option in the left menu.
Apply custom colors to differentiate between Up and Down columns on your Excel waterfall chart
  • Repeat the process with your Up column. We chose green.
  • Make sure to individually color code your start and end columns. Pick a separate color to make them stand out.

Here’s how your waterfall chart should look now.

Example of an Excel waterfall chart with green and blue columns

Getting rid of white space

You can also get rid of that extra white space between your columns. This will make the chart “pop” a little more.

  • Double click on a column, select “Format Data Series,” and click on “Options” in the left menu.
  • Change the “Series Overlap” to 100% and the “Gap Width” to 15%.
Adjusting the series overlap and gap width to remove white space from your Excel waterfall chart

Now you’ve got a pretty waterfall chart that should look something like this.

Example of a waterfall chart with white space removed

Adding titles and labels

To add a title to your chart:

  • Click on your chart and look for “chart options” in the formatting palette.
  • Click on the chart title box to name your chart.

If you want to add a data label to show specific numbers for each column, you can do that. Right click on one of your columns and select “Add Data Labels” from the dropdown. Your numbers should now magically appear.

To format those labels and make them a little prettier, select one, then right click and pick “Format Data Labels” from the dropdown list.

From within that same pane, you can change the position of the label and play around with the font color and size to make the numbers easier to see. After that, you can delete zero values and, optionally, the legend from your waterfall chart.

How to analyze a waterfall report

One of the great things about the waterfall report is its ability to show a starting number, the positive or negative changes, and the ending number—all in one chart.

In our example, what jumps out at you?

Our negative income months were April and May, then July and August. What is it about those late spring and late summer months that caused a dip?

Are sales down because of spring and summer vacations? Is this a normal, expected trend or something that’s new this year? If this is an expected dip, has the company made the necessary budget accommodations? And if it looks like it’s just a one-off, how can you make sure it doesn’t become a trend next year?

It also never hurts to walk any relevant team members through your chart. Seeing the data in color might make more of an impact than just sending out an email. The chart could give your sales people the kick in the pants they need to make next year better than ever!

Download our waterfall chart Excel template

Remember, TeamGantt is here to help. We’ve created an easy-to-use waterfall template for you. Just plug and play with your own numbers and you’ll be ready to go.

You can easily plan and communicate within your project budget by creating your own plan with TeamGantt. Get started!

Additional resources

  • Project management template library: Use these simple templates in any industry to plan and manage projects, identify and mitigate risk, and communicate effectively at every project step.
  • Gantt chart Excel template: Save time organizing your project plan with our premade Excel gantt chart template! Simply plug in your tasks and dates, and you'll have a presentation-quality Excel gantt chart.