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Excel Waterfall Charts with Ease

Charts Excel

It’s Operating Plan time at work again, and that means long term financial models and bridge diagrams to show the causes of movement between years. I’ve previosuly written about Excel waterfall charts and I had to refer to my own waterfall chart tutorial to help me with this months submission. I’ve been researching the topic further though and have found a really intuitive way to produce waterfall charts or bridge diagrams by using the Up-Down charting feature in Excel.

Excel waterfall chart or bridge diagram

I think its easier to understand than the stacked bar chart method so I’ve created a quick video to explain the method of creating a waterfall chart in Excel using Up-Down charts.

If you’ve watched the video and would like to play around with the workbook I’m using you can download it here:

Excel template for a waterfall chart or bridge diagram using up-down chart.

Setting up the Waterfall Chart

Here’s the step by step instructions for building a waterfall chart using the Up/Down bars and is heavily influenced by Peltier and his cutting edge charting blog.

Setting up the Data Table

Waterfall Chart Data

Here’s the data used to formulate the really easy waterfall chart.

Columns D:F hold the formulas.

Type them as written in cells D4, D12, E5 and F5. You can then drag the formulas down in columns E and F. Be very careful to follow the absolute referencing in the formulas (ie the placement of the $ sign).

D4 = C4
E5 =SUM($C$4:c4)
F5 =SUM($C$4:C5)
D12 =SUM(C4:C11)

Formulas for Excel Waterfall Chart

Insert the initial chart

Select the data B3:C12 and then press CTRL and highlight D3:F12 as well.
Insert – Line Chart
Up/Down bars for Waterfall Charts

Right click over the x-axis and select format axis so you can move the data labels to the low position and get them out of the way of the data.
You now have 3 series on the chart:

  • End Point
  • Before
  • After

Highlight the End Point series and convert to a bar chart. You should be able to select the series by clicking on the data points but if you ever struggle (perhaps because you’ve formatted the series to make it invisible) you can select the series by going to Chart Tools (on the ribbon), selecting Format and then over on the left using the drop down to select the series of choice.

Excel Selecting Chart Series

Selecting the Up/Down bars in ExcelNow select either one of the remaining line chart series: Before or After and then you will need to turn on the Up/Down bars for this series. Go to the Chart Tools area of the ribbon, select Layout – Up/Down Bars and then select the option to show them.

Formatting the Waterfall Chart

Now that the Up Down bars are in place you can see the expected form of the waterfall chart building up nicely. From here on in, it is just a series of formatting steps to prepare the final waterfall chart.

Preparing a waterfall chart in excel

  1. Select and format both the Before and After line series so that Marker Options are set to none and Line Colour is set to No Line (note in the video I actually clicked solid line by mistake and flummaxed myself – make sure you select no line)
  2. Right click on one of the Up Bars (currently white) and format to an appropriate colour. If it’s a favourable movement I go fro green and use red for advers.
  3. Right click on one of the Down Bars and format that with a different colout
  4. Right click on the legend and click delete as this has no informational benefit
  5. If you would like to narrow the gap between the bars you need to do this in two stages:
  • Right click on the End Point column, format series and move gap width to around 20%
  • In order to adjust the gap between the Up/Down Bars you need to select either the Before or After series and not one of the actual bars. Either use the trick mentioned above to select the series or click madly on the chart until you find it. Right click, format data series and adjust the gap width to 20%

This then takes us to the point where the video finished with a waterfall charts that just requires a title and the axes labelling.

Extremely easy waterfall chart in Excel, using the Up/Down charts

If you would like to add data labels to show the movement above each column, you will need to follow these additional steps to add a new series as you can’t directly label Up/Down Bars.

Adding Data Labels to Your Waterfall Charts

The easiest way to add data labels is to create an invisible series that holds the values you require.

I created a new column called Y Values and set the values to be equal to the Max of the End Point column which means that I can display all the value on the same level, preferably above all my columns.

So in the example spreadsheet the value would be 0.4.

NHHSExcel Adding Legends

Add a new series to your chart with the Series data looking at your new column (Y Values) and the x axis data pointing at the values you want to use for your label, which in this instance is the Amount column.

In excel 2010 the way to do this is to go to the Design tab and choose the Select Data option. From this box you now add a new series called Labels. The Series Values are G4:G12 in my example (all the 0.4 values) and the Axis Labels are C4:C12 (the Amount values).

Once you’ve added this new series the waterfall chart looks a bit odd but don’t worry, it just needs a bit of formatting.

NHSExcel Data Legends

You should now have a straight line on your chart (which may or may not be visible), you need to select this series and format it so that it is displayed on the secondary axis (you can delete this later but you don’t want it interfering with the Up Down series).

NHSExcel Waterfall Charts

In order to select the Series in Excel 2010 go to the Layout tab and on the left hand side of the ribbon use the dropdown box to select Series “Labels”. You should notice some butterfly selection indicators, right click on one of these and select Format Data Series, I ensure that a solid line is chosen initially, although I will remove it later. You should also select the option to show this series on the Secondary Axis as this gives you easy control over the placement of the labels.

Next you can add the data labels – select the series again (use the drop down box for ease), right click and choose Add Data Labels. Now format these data labels and select the option to show category name (ie the x-axis value rather than the value).

Finally, format the series so that the line and markers are not visible and then format the secondary axis so it is no longer visible.

Waterfall Chart in Excel with data Labels

Doctor Moxie

Written by -

NHS Accountant with geeky tendencies - serial blogger on subjects varying from Excel, Raspberry Pi, productivity, allotment gardening and running. The NHSExcel blog is reserved for Excel topics.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Hugh

    Wow, waterfall charts made so easy. And the Excel download file is very helpful. Thanks.
    And, I may be wrong, but is this Dr Moxie’s first Excel video venture.
    I have learned so much by adding “youtube” to Excel internet searches.
    Just one concern, it is a pity that the Up Down menu option is not on-screen visible. Keep up the good work Dr Moxie!

  • Doctor Moxie

    Thanks, glad you found it helpful. You are right about it being my first attempt at a video tutorial. Hopefully they’ll get better as I play around with different software for doing the job and I’ll make sure I capture the important parts of the screen next time.

    • Hugh

      I look forward to more videos. A picture is worth a thousand words and btw Dr Moxie has an engaging voice(over).

  • James

    This is awesome but the last part on adding data labels is killing me. I’m trying every permutation based on your description with no luck. Do you have a template that shows those steps or can you be a bit more detailed in the How To?

    I can’t get the single straight line to appear at all.

    • http://www.doctormoxie.com Doctor Moxie

      Hi, I’ll have a look tomorrow and see if I can find a way to make it clearer. It can be a pain though.

      • http://www.doctormoxie.com Doctor Moxie

        I’ve updated the instructions for adding data labels. Hopefully this makes the final task a little easier to follow.