So, Exactly What Is a Waterfall Chart?


In this era of data-dense presentations and vigorous decision-making machinery, diagrams and charts have become the linchpin. Infographics like bar graphs, histograms, pie charts, and line diagrams have been the convention for a long time. Evolving with the demands of business dynamics, a new entrant to this brigade is the waterfall chart.

Traversing through the peaks and valleys of this article will equip you with a comprehensive understanding of what is a waterfall chart. Keep reading.

The Fundamentals of a Waterfall Chart

Just as a waterfall cascades step by step from a height, the waterfall chart symbolizes a progressive increase or decrease in any given data. A striking feature of the waterfall chart is its consecutive blocks, also known as steps, illustrating how an initial value increases or decreases through a sequence of changes.

Named for their visual similarity to a physical waterfall, waterfall charts are also often known as bridge charts. This is due to the ‘bridging’ nature of the chart wherein individual data points are connected to show a comprehensive journey.


These charts are predominantly used for understanding the cumulative effect of sequential positive or negative values. They help in various analytical situations including inventory analysis, performance analysis, and financial statement breakdown.

The encapsulating feature of a waterfall chart is its ability to represent complex data in an easy-to-understand and visually appealing manner.

The Essential Ingredients for Crafting a Waterfall Chart

A waterfall chart can be constructed smoothly once the basic components are understood. The essential ingredients of a waterfall chart include a starting point, an ending point, increases, decreases, and total values.

The chart essentially begins with a starting point which represents the initial data value. This value could refer to your baseline sales, profits, or any other factor you are analyzing.

The subsequent increases and decreases are represented as floating ‘steps’. These ‘steps’ signify the value changes which modify the initial data value.

The ending point or the final result is shown as the last column. This column effectively captures the result after considering all the additions and subtractions.

Decoding the Functionality and Utility of a Waterfall Chart

Waterfall charts serve multiple functionalities in various sectors. They are extremely versatile, and their usefulness extends beyond pure visual representation of data.

These charts can exhibit how an initial value is affected by a series of intermediate positive or negative values. They function impeccably to understand the cumulative effect of multiple factors.

Furthermore, waterfall charts are an asset in tactical environments. They impeccably demonstrate how a series of positive and negative values get combined to create a final value.

From explanatory financial presentations to result prediction models, waterfall charts are dynamic tools designed to display comprehensive data.

Comparing Waterfall Chart with Other Business Communication Tools

When compared to other business communication tools such as bar, pie, or line charts, waterfall charts excel in exhibiting the cumulative effect of sequentially occurring quantitative data.

While bar and line charts are effective for showing trends over time, they cannot easily illustrate the exact contributions of individual components. Waterfall charts fill this gap by breaking down the data into constituent parts.

Waterfall charts are faultless in scenarios where the difference between the starting and ending points needs to be demonstrated. They visually represent the cumulative effect of sequential transactions.

On the contrary, a pie chart would only present the proportionate difference and would not embrace the chronological nature of transactions.

Overall, waterfall charts are more than just a creative presentation of data. They are strategic tools that offer a clear and detailed breakdown of data, filling the gap left by traditional charts. These charts play a prominent role in strategic decision-making by representing complex data in a straightforward and discernible manner.