Power BI Waterfall Chart: What’s That All About?

Posted by on Jul 29, 2015 in Power BI | 11 Comments


You’ve heard the news about Power BI Desktop release with bunch of new features. If you don’t, read blog post here to understand new features of Power BI. Waterfall chart is one of the new visualization elements in this product. For finance people this chart makes sense, but not everyone knows the usage of that. In this post I want to explain what is Waterfall chart, when to use it? and how to use it? So you would learn what’s Waterfall chart all about?

There are many charts that are self-explanatory, such as Bar chart, line chart…. Some charts might need a little bit working with to understand what is the best situation to use them, such as scatter chart (especially with play dimension). Some charts looks easy but you might not get their reason to exists, and the type of problem that they solve. From feedback that I’ve heard I think waterfall chart is in the latest category. But don’t be afraid, it is an easy chart. you only need to know when and how to use it.

What is Waterfall Chart?

Waterfall Chart is a type of chart that usually used for

“understanding the cumulative effect of sequentially introduced positive or negative values”.

Don’t blame me! I’ve get that definition from Wikipedia ;) My simple definition however is: Waterfall chart is for analysis of up and downs for an additive measure. as an example you can analysis cashflow based on up and downs of it through all months of a financial year.

When to use Waterfall Chart?

You can also use waterfall chart for analysis of inventory, credit, performance, and everything else that falling or raising of its value matters. sequential of attribute that describe the value is also another helpful dimension of the waterfall chart. For example you want to know up and downs of performance through the last year with the sequence of quarters that you’ve done performance reviews.

So Don’t limit yourself, this chart visualize and tell many stories, just think big and find situations that you can use this chart to respond to the existing requirement.

How to use this Chart?

Easy! When you know the usage of chart, and you have the data set to work with, then just use Waterfall chart in Power BI Desktop. I’ll show it through an example to you.

Sample Data

I used the data set provided by Debra Dalgleish in this post. The data set is a cashflow data set as below:


As you see in above data set we have periods (months), base, up, down, and the cash flow. If you want to understand how the calculation of cashflow works. it is as below:

  • Base of the start period is coming from previous period (year) balance.
  • Base of each period is the Base from previous period + Up of previous period – Down of the previous period
  • CashFlow is equal to Up minus Down
  • value of End of Period calculated in the same way of base for each period
  • As an example B3=B2+D2-C2 (this formula continues to down with numbers changed based on rows)

So Let’s use this data set in the Power BI.

Extract the Data

I just fetch the data from the excel file as is. with no changes. the only change I make is to add an Index Column to it (this index column will be used for sorting later on);


After adding the index column and changing name of the query to CashFlow. I’ll start preparing the model.


There is only one data table in our model, so modelling shouldn’t be a problem. However there are some changes that I like to make as below:

  • Changing Format of columns (Base, Down, Up, and Cash Flow) as Currency


  • Change Sorting of Period Column to be based on Index column


For doing above change; select Period column first, then from Modeling tab, click on Sort By Column, and then choose Index. If you don’t apply this change waterfall chart will sort periods based on their alphabetical order.


Go to Report tab. double click on Waterfall chart from Visualizations pane in the right hand side.

You have to set only two parameters:

  • Category: Set it to Period
  • Y Axis: Set it to Cash Flow


As you see in above chart, the cashflow and its up and down showed beautifully in the chart. Order of period category is also right, and that is because of the Sort By Column setting we’ve done in previous section.

You can apply formatting as you want to this chart, like changing colors, backgrounds, title and so on. I just like to set data labels for now.




And this is the final chart (with few formatting):






Reza Rad
Reza Rad is an Author, Trainer, Speaker and DW/BI Consultant. He has a BSc in Computer engineering; he has more than 15 years’ experience in databases, programming and development mostly on Microsoft technologies. He is a Microsoft MVP in Data Platform for seven continues years (from 2011 till now) for his dedication in Microsoft BI. He is author of some SQL Server and BI books, and also Power BI online book; from Rookie to Rock Star.


  • I’m curious to know why someone would use a waterfall chart for this data? It’s just a time series.

    Waterfall charts are useful for discerning the *categories* that impact a quantity. A scatter plot or line plot or bar chart can be used for time series data. With times series we don’t care too much about the categories because everyone knows how time works!

    For example, for cash flow (CF), it would make sense to have a chart that showed the beginning cash balance, CF from operations, CF from investing, CF from financing, and then end with the ending cash balance. That allows you to see at a glance what categories of change contributed to the overall change.

  • This is very interesting. I am looking to do a similar thing, but with a line chart or bar chart. I am looking to have a graph that would show cumulative sales for the year. As each month goes on, the line or bar chart would display total sales for all previous months and the current month much like the waterfall chart does but the value of the bar would be the total sales amount not the net change. This would also allow you to compare year over year sales as well. Do you have any ideas how to do that?

    • Hi Tom,
      One way of doing that is through the data model. You can add a Running Total calculated column to your data set. this running total will calculate the cumulative sales up to that month of the year. then use this measure in the line chart to show. Let me know if you need more detailed help.


  • Hi Reza,
    This is really wonderful and helped me for building the waterfall visual I was struggling to make in Power BI. though as per my clients requirement I have a small query, on how to remove the total bar from the graph. because it is always adding up all the bars and creating the total graph. So I am looking at having target vs actual graph. let say the first bar is my target followed by months where we see the contribution in each month and the last bar will be the actual achieved and not the total.
    is that possible?

    would be amazing if that can be done.

    Best Regards,

  • Dear Reza,
    I wonder how to use the waterfall in the Power BI for variance analysis. the x aix is not the date & time but the serials of impact factors.

  • Dear Reza,
    Could you please show me how to change the data labels like you did in this example?
    Many Thanks in advance.

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