Mastering the Art of How to Make Waterfall Chart in Excel

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Data visualization is an integral part of conveying complex information in a clear and concise manner. Among the myriad of charts and graphs available, the waterfall chart stands out as a powerful tool for illustrating the cumulative effect of sequential positive and negative values.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the intricacies of how to make waterfall chart in Excel, exploring its applications and providing step-by-step instructions for various methods.

Understanding the Waterfall Chart

A waterfall chart is a visual representation of financial or statistical data that showcases the cumulative effect of sequentially introduced positive or negative values. It is particularly useful for tracking the impact of individual values on a final sum.

Waterfall charts are commonly employed in finance, project management, and other fields where it is essential to analyze the flow and impact of different factors contributing to a total.

Situations Where Waterfall Charts Are Useful

  1. Financial Statements: Waterfall charts are extensively used in financial reporting to depict the transition from opening to closing balances. This is particularly helpful for understanding how revenue, costs, and other financial elements contribute to the overall profit or loss.
  2. Project Management: Tracking project expenses and resource allocation becomes more intuitive with waterfall charts. It allows project managers to identify critical milestones, budgetary changes, and the overall impact on the project’s financial health.
  3. Sales Performance: Analyzing sales performance can be made more insightful with waterfall charts. They help in visualizing the contributions of various products, sales teams, or regions to the total revenue, allowing for informed decision-making.
  4. Inventory Analysis: Businesses dealing with inventory management can use waterfall charts to illustrate how factors like purchases, sales, and returns impact their stock levels over time.
  5. Cost Breakdowns: Understanding the breakdown of costs in a business process or project becomes more accessible with waterfall charts. They provide a clear view of how each cost element contributes to the total.

Creating a Waterfall Chart in Excel: Step-by-Step Guide

Method 1: Using Stacked Columns                                              

  1. Data Preparation:
    • Organize your data into a table with columns for categories and corresponding values.
    • Include a starting point (e.g., opening balance) and an ending point (e.g., closing balance).
  2. Insert a Stacked Column Chart:
    • Highlight your data and go to the “Insert” tab.
    • Select “Stacked Column” from the Chart options.
  3. Adjust the Chart:
    • Right-click on the chart, and select “Switch Row/Column” to swap the axis.
    • Format the data series by setting the fill color for positive and negative values.
  4. Add Data Labels:
    • Add data labels to each data point for clarity.
    • Right-click on the data series, choose “Add Data Labels,” and select the appropriate option.

Method 2: Using Excel Waterfall Chart Template

  1. Download a Template:
    • Excel provides pre-built waterfall chart templates that you can customize.
    • Go to the “Insert” tab, click on “Waterfall,” and choose a template that suits your needs.
  2. Modify the Data:
    • Input your data into the template.
    • Customize the chart by adjusting labels, colors, and other formatting options.

Method 3: Using Excel’s Waterfall Chart Feature

  1. Select Your Data:
    • Organize your data into a table with categories and corresponding values, including positive and negative numbers.
  2. Insert a Waterfall Chart:
    • Highlight your data and go to the “Insert” tab.
    • Click on “Waterfall” in the Charts group.
  3. Format the Chart:
    • Customize the chart by adjusting colors, labels, and other formatting options.
    • Excel provides options to show or hide intermediate connectors and other chart elements.

Best Practices for Waterfall Charts

  1. Maintain Clarity:
    • Use clear labels and colors to enhance readability.
    • Ensure that the chart effectively communicates the story behind the data.
  2. Highlight Key Points:
    • Emphasize critical values or milestones by using distinct formatting.
    • This could include using a different color for starting and ending points.
  3. Use Consistent Units:
    • Keep the units consistent across the chart for accurate interpretation.
    • Clearly state whether values are in thousands, millions, or any other unit.
  4. Update Dynamically:
    • If your data is subject to change, consider creating dynamic charts using Excel features like data tables or named ranges.


Mastering the art of how to make waterfall charts in Excel opens up a world of possibilities for professionals across various industries. Whether you’re analyzing financial statements, tracking project progress, or assessing sales performance, a waterfall chart provides a visual narrative that is both compelling and informative.

By following the step-by-step guide and adhering to best practices, you can leverage this powerful tool to enhance your data visualization skills and make more informed decisions in real-life scenarios.

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