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September 3, 2010

Tableau Tip: Creating a Waterfall Gantt Chart

I keep up with the website eagereyes regularly and recently they ran a three-part series titled "A Protovis Primer" in which they introduced the tool Protovis. Protovis is an open-source tool that allows you to create data visualizations.

Part 3 of the series was dedicated to instructions for creating a waterfall chart. If you take a quick look at the tutorial (well, there is no way to read it quickly), you will see that the method they have for creating a simple waterfall chart is in fact quite complicated and requires a lot of coding.

There's a much simpler way to do it...use Tableau. Here's the step by step way to do it create a Gantt chart using the same Presidential data eargeyes used (I added data from different polls that ranks all of the Presidents). Get the data here.

Step 1 - Add Inauguration to the column shelf and # and President to the row shelf. You need to have the # field so that the Presidents are listed in order from Washington to Obama.

Step 2 - Right-click on the YEAR(Inauguration) field and choose "All Values". This is required otherwise the time scale will not allow you to connect the start and end dates.

Step 3 - Right-click on the # field and uncheck "Show Header". This will hide the # column, yet still use it for sorting purposes.

Step 4 - Create a calculated field named Length of Presidency and drop it on the Size shelf (this gives the bar its length)

Step 5 - Create three calculated fields (Life, Time in Office, Age @ Inauguration) and place them on the Level of Detail shelf.

The end result should be a waterfall Gantt chart like this (I removed the grid lines):

That's it! Very simple, especially after you do it a few times.

Going a step farther, I created a "timeline" that highlights the times each political party was in office. Here are all of the settings:

I put it all together in a dashboard. I made the Political Party field a global filter and highlighting is enabled when you click on the color of Political Party on the right. Finally, I published the workbook to Tableau Public.

Give it a shot. Download the Tableau Packaged Workbook.


  1. I would consider this an example of a Gantt Chart, and not so much a waterfall chart. The top pane of Waterfall and Volume is what I would consider a waterfall chart.

  2. Funny that you say that Joe. Originally my title was Gantt chart, not waterfall, but I changed it since the eagereyes blog was calling it a waterfall chart.

  3. Gantt chart sometimes looks like a waterfall when you break all the task together. Is there a way I can draw gantt charts not using microsoft tools? I want to find a good software for project management.

    1. There are lots of tools. You can use Excel, Tableau, Qlik, pencil and paper, etc.

  4. Have you had any luck with hours, minutes, seconds in a Gantt chart? I can't make a job scheduling graph look anything like reality, 3 minute jobs span several days in my chart. Maybe Tableau 9 fixes some of these flaws?

  5. G C, can you upload a workbook or data set that resembles yours so I can play with it?