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waterfall chart in tableau

Published on Jul 06,2024 38 Views

Experienced writer specializing in DevOps and Data Analysis. With a background in... Experienced writer specializing in DevOps and Data Analysis. With a background in technology and a passion for clear communication, I craft insightful content that...

In data visualization, the Tableau Waterfall Chart stands out as a powerful tool for illustrating sequential changes in data over time or through different categories. This dynamic chart type allows analysts and stakeholders to track the cumulative effect of positive and negative values, making it ideal for financial analysis, profit-and-loss statements, and operational performance reviews.

With Tableau’s intuitive interface, creating a Waterfall Chart becomes an accessible task, offering clarity and insight into how individual data points contribute to overall trends. Whether showcasing revenue streams, budget allocations, or project timelines, the Tableau created Waterfall Chart provides a clear visual narrative that aids decision-making and enhances data-driven storytelling.

Today, we explore the versatility and analytical depth of the Tableau stacked Waterfall Chart to uncover trends, identify outliers, and communicate data-driven insights effectively across your organization.

What is Tableau?

Tableau is a powerful data visualization tool that enables users to create interactive and insightful visual representations of data. It allows analysts and businesses to explore, analyze, and present data in a visually compelling manner, facilitating data-driven decision-making processes.

One of the notable features in Tableau is the waterfall chart, which visualizes the cumulative effect of sequentially introduced positive or negative values. This chart type is effective for showing how initial and subsequent values contribute to a final total. Tableau offers flexibility in creating waterfall charts with options such as Tableau stacked waterfall charts and charts that include totals and Tableau waterfall charts with multiple measures.

Creating a waterfall chart in Tableau involves straightforward steps using its intuitive interface, allowing users to customize charts based on their specific data requirements. This capability makes Tableau charts a preferred choice for professionals seeking to visualize financial data, performance metrics, and other sequential data trends with clarity and precision.

What is a Waterfall Chart?

A waterfall chart, often created using tools like Tableau, is a visual representation of cumulative values that sequentially add up to a final total. It is ideal for illustrating how different factors contribute positively or negatively to a cumulative result, making it a powerful tool for financial analysis, performance tracking, and trend visualization.

In Tableau, users can easily create waterfall chart in Tableau by plotting starting values, subsequent increases or decreases, and final totals in a step-by-step format. This chart type is versatile, allowing for customization with stacked bars for additional insights into the composition of changes over time or across categories.

By leveraging Tableau’s capabilities, analysts can create Tableau waterfall charts with total values that show the overall impact of each component, as well as charts incorporating Tableau waterfall chart with multiple measures to compare different datasets or scenarios side by side. This flexibility makes Tableau a preferred choice for professionals needing to visualize complex data trends and dependencies with clarity and precision.

Steps to Create Waterfall Chart in Tableau 

Following are the steps to create a waterfall chart in Tableau:

Step 1: Importing Data into Tableau

Begin by importing the Superstore dataset, which is available among Tableau’s sample datasets. Place the desired measure (e.g., Sales) onto the Rows shelf and the corresponding dimension (e.g., Category) onto the Columns shelf. Tableau will default to creating a bar chart. To facilitate comparison, sort the bars in descending order, aligning them from highest to lowest.

Step 2: Adding a Running Total Calculation

Right-click on your measure in the Rows shelf, select “Quick Table Calculation,” and then choose “Running Total.” This will apply a cumulative total to your measure, providing a progressive calculation that reflects each step’s contribution.

Step 3: Converting Bars to Gantt Bars

Change the mark type from Automatic (Bar) to Gantt Bar via the drop-down menu in the Marks section located on the left toolbar. Then, drag the measure of interest (Sales in this case) onto the Size card within the Marks section, configuring the chart to display Gantt bars sized according to your measure.

Step 4: Adjusting the Chart for Continuity

The blocks may appear misaligned, starting from their own positions and moving upwards due to positive values. To align each block with the endpoint of the previous one, convert the Sales values to negative. Click on the Sales card in the Marks section, select the measure, and prepend a minus (-) sign to the SUM([Sales]) formula. This adjustment corrects the positioning of each bar segment.

Step 5: Finalizing the Waterfall Chart with Positive and Negative Values

You may notice that the chart appears inverted, with the lowest performers listed first. To reverse this order and place the worst performer last, right-click on the Columns shelf and select “Sort.” Then, adjust the “Field Name” drop-down to sort by your original measure. This will reorder the chart to properly display the flow from the highest to lowest values. Additional options like adding colors and filters can further enhance your chart.

With these steps, you have successfully created a basic yet effective waterfall chart in Tableau, illustrating both positive and negative changes clearly.

3 Ways to Create Actionable Tableau Waterfall Charts 

Creating actionable Tableau waterfall charts involves enhancing interactivity and visual clarity to empower users to derive insights. Here are three effective methods:

1. Highlighting the Tableau Waterfall Chart Using User Selections:

Explanation: Allow users to interact with the waterfall chart by highlighting specific segments or categories based on their selections. This can be achieved using Tableau’s dashboard actions. For example, users can click on a segment of the waterfall chart to filter related data points across other visualizations on the dashboard, providing context and deeper understanding.

Implementation: Create a dashboard action where a selection on the waterfall chart triggers filters or highlights on other charts or data tables. This enhances the usability of the waterfall chart as users can dynamically explore data points and correlations.

2. Making Custom Visualization for Tableau Waterfall Chart with Totals:

Explanation: Enhance the presentation of cumulative Tableau waterfall charts with totals by creating custom visualizations or annotations. This can include adding additional summary visual elements such as annotations, shapes, or trend lines that provide context to the cumulative totals at each stage of the waterfall.

Implementation: Use Tableau’s capabilities to overlay additional charts or annotations on the waterfall chart. For instance, display a line chart showing the trend of cumulative totals alongside the waterfall bars. This approach helps users quickly grasp the overall trend and changes in values as they progress through the waterfall chart.

3. Creating Custom Range Highlighters Using the Reference Bands:

Explanation: Improve clarity and insights by using reference bands to highlight specific ranges or thresholds within the waterfall chart. Reference bands are visual aids that can be applied to highlight ranges of values, such as target ranges or performance thresholds, making it easier for users to identify significant deviations or achievements.

Implementation: Add reference bands to the waterfall chart to mark important thresholds or ranges. For example, highlight positive and negative value ranges to visualize gains and losses. This method helps in identifying critical points or performance benchmarks directly within the waterfall visualization, aiding in decision-making and analysis.

How to Highlight User Selections

To highlight user selections in a waterfall chart in Tableau, you can follow these steps:

Parameters Setup:

Create parameters that will allow users to select dimensions or measures they want to highlight. For example, you can create parameters for different categories or segments that users might want to focus on in the waterfall chart.

Calculate Highlighted Values:

Create calculated fields that use these parameters to filter and highlight specific segments of the waterfall chart. For instance, you can use IF statements or CASE statements in calculated fields to assign values to the segments based on user selections.

Use Conditional Formatting:

Apply conditional formatting to the waterfall chart to visually emphasize the selected segments. This can include changing the color and size or adding annotations to the highlighted segments.

Utilize Interactivity:

Enable interactivity by allowing users to click on or hover over segments to see detailed information or additional context related to their selections. This can be achieved using tooltips or dashboard actions in Tableau.

Dashboard Design:

Design your Tableau dashboard to include clear instructions or controls for users to make selections and see the highlighted results dynamically. Use dashboard containers or layout techniques to organize the waterfall chart and related elements effectively.

Testing and Iteration:

Test the interactivity and functionality of the highlighted selections feature to ensure it meets user expectations and provides meaningful insights. Iterate based on feedback to improve usability and clarity.

How to Make Custom Totals for Tableau Waterfall Charts

Creating custom totals for waterfall charts in Tableau involves several steps to ensure the chart accurately reflects the aggregated values and maintains its structural integrity. Here’s how you can achieve this:

Data Preparation:

Ensure your dataset is structured with all necessary dimensions and measures. Waterfall charts typically require a series of dimensions or categories (e.g., stages of a process) and corresponding measures (e.g., values for each stage).

Create a Calculated Field for Totals:

In Tableau, create a calculated field to compute the custom totals. This field should aggregate the values across all stages or categories in your waterfall chart. For example, if your waterfall chart represents revenue stages (e.g., Sales, Discounts, Returns), the calculated field might sum up these values.

Include Totals in the Dataset:

Add the calculated total field to your dataset or ensure it’s included in the data source you are connecting to in Tableau. This field will be used to display the total value at the end or beginning of your waterfall chart.

Build the Waterfall Chart:

  • Drag the dimensions (categories or stages) to the Columns shelf and arrange them in the order you want them to appear in the waterfall chart.
  • Drag the measure (e.g., Value) to the Rows shelf. Tableau will automatically create the initial waterfall chart showing the incremental changes.

Add Custom Total:

Drag the calculated total field to the Rows shelf next to the Measure field. This should add the custom total line to your waterfall chart, representing the cumulative total of all stages.

Format and Customize:

Format the waterfall chart as needed to enhance readability and emphasize the custom total line. You can adjust colors, labels, and annotations to make the total line distinct from the incremental changes.

Test and Validate:

Ensure the custom total line accurately reflects the aggregated values of all stages in your waterfall chart. Test interactivity and functionality to verify that the chart behaves as expected when filtered or drilled down.

How to Create Custom Range Highlighters Using Reference Bands

Creating custom range highlighters using reference bands in Tableau allows you to visually emphasize specific ranges of data within your visualizations. Here’s a step-by-step guide to achieve this:

Prepare Your Data:

Ensure your dataset is structured with the necessary dimensions and measures that you want to visualize with custom-range highlighters.

Connect to Data:

Open Tableau and connect to your dataset.

Create a Worksheet:

Drag the dimensions and measures you want to visualize onto the Rows and Columns shelves to create your basic visualization. This could be a line chart, bar chart, or any other suitable chart type.

Add Reference Bands:

  •  In the worksheet, go to the Analytics pane (usually located on the right-hand side).
  •  Drag the “Reference Band” option from the Analytics pane and drop it onto your visualization.

Configure Reference Bands:

  • Once the reference band is added, a dialog box or shelf will appear where you can configure its properties.
  •  Customize the reference band to highlight specific ranges of your data. You can define the range using constant values, field values, or percentiles.
  •  For example, you might set a reference band to highlight values between 0 and 100 in a line chart representing sales over time.

Edit Reference Band Properties:

After adding the reference band, you can further customize its appearance and behavior. Options typically include:

  • Color: Choose a color that contrasts well with your visualization to make the reference band stand out.
  • Opacity: Adjust the transparency of the reference band to ensure it doesn’t overpower the underlying data.
  • Labeling: Add labels or annotations to the reference band to provide context to viewers.

Apply Multiple Reference Bands (Optional):

You can add multiple reference bands to highlight different ranges or segments within your data. Repeat steps 4 to 6 for each additional reference band.

Format and Finalize:

  • Format your visualization, including axes, labels, and titles, to ensure clarity and readability.
  • Adjust the placement and alignment of the reference bands as needed to optimize visual impact.

Test and Validate:

Interact with your visualization to ensure the reference bands behave as expected. Check how they respond to filters, sorting, and drill-down actions to verify their functionality.

Save and Share:

Once satisfied with your visualization, save your worksheet and consider sharing it with others in your organization using Tableau Server or Tableau Public.


In summary, a Waterfall Chart in Tableau serves as an essential tool for visualizing the cumulative effect of sequential data points, making it easier to understand how different factors contribute to a final value. This type of chart is particularly useful for financial analysis, inventory management, and any situation where you need to see incremental changes in data over time.

For those looking to master this and other powerful data visualization techniques, enrolling in a comprehensive Tableau Course is highly recommended. Additionally, to enhance your overall data analysis skills and career prospects, consider taking a Data Analyst Course that covers a broad spectrum of analytical tools and methodologies. These courses will equip you with the knowledge and expertise needed to leverage Tableau effectively in various professional contexts.

Waterfall Chart in Tableau FAQs

  1. What is a waterfall chart used for?

A waterfall chart is used to visualize cumulative changes in data over time or across categories. It shows how initial and final values are affected by intermediate positive or negative contributions, making it useful for financial analysis, profit and loss statements, project management, and understanding sequential data transformations.

2. How do you show totals in a waterfall chart in Tableau?

To show totals in a Tableau waterfall chart, you can add a total bar by using a calculated field that sums all the positive and negative values. This total bar appears at the end of the chart, providing a comprehensive view of the cumulative effect of all data points.

3. How to sort a waterfall chart in Tableau?

To sort a waterfall chart in Tableau, you can use the sort options available in the marks card or by right-clicking on the field you want to sort by and selecting “Sort.” This allows you to arrange the bars in ascending or descending order based on your preferred measure.

4. How to create a simple waterfall chart?

To create a simple waterfall chart in Tableau, follow these steps:

  • Drag the dimension or measure that represents your categories or stages to Columns.
  • Drag the measure that represents the value changes (positive and negative) to Rows.
  • Optionally, add any additional dimensions or measures for further analysis.
  • Format the chart as needed to enhance readability and understanding.

5. How do you format data points in a waterfall chart?

To format data points in a waterfall chart in Tableau, you can:

  • Click on the marks card and choose the appropriate mark type (e.g., bar, line).
  • Adjust the color, size, and shape of the data points using the options available in the marks card.
  • Use tooltips to display additional information about each data point when hovering over the chart.
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waterfall chart in tableau