A chart by any other name…

We call it a cascade chart, but it is also known by other names, including waterfall, bridge, floating bar, flying brick or Mario chart. The chart type was popularized by McKinsey so it's sometimes referred to as the “McKinsey chart”.

The Anatomy of a Cascade Chart

The cascade chart shows overall changes and the relationship between each bar to the total. Typically, the first and last bars in a cascade chart are total bars (start at the axis) while the other bars, showing the positive and negative contributions, float in the chart. You can add subtotal bars in the chart or segment any bar in the chart to create a stacked cascade chart.

Popular Uses

  • Financial Statement Analysis
  • Change Analysis
  • Gap Analysis
  • Segmentation

Financial Statement Analysis

Use a cascade chart to show the income statement or statement of cash flows. Include data rows to compare to previous results.

Income Statement Cascade (Build Down Cascade with Data Rows)

Change Analysis

Use a cascade to show the change in a measure between time periods. Examples: revenue by product or region, variance analysis, profit improvement, growth profile.

Revenue Change (Change Cascades with Multiple Time Periods & Axis Breaks)

Change Cascade by Product and Region

Variance Analysis (Change Cascade with Axis Break & Bar Comparison Line)

Variance Analysis Cascade/Waterfall Chart

Profit Improvement (Change Cascade with Axis Break & Bar Comparison Line)

Profit Improvement Cascade/Waterfall Chart

Growth Profile (Stacked Cascade with Legend & Bar Comparison Line)

Growth Profile Cascade/Waterfall Chart

Gap Analysis

Use a cascade to highlight the gap between actual and expected performance. Examples: sales pipeline analysis, budget to actual comparison.

Sales Pipeline (Build Up Cascade with Subtotal and Data Row)

Sales Pipeline Analysis Cascade/Waterfall Chart

Segmentation

Use a cascade as an alternative to a stacked bar chart to show how each segment contributes to the total. This makes it easier to walk your audience through each segment and it gives you the opportunity to add supplementary data or text in the data row. This is particularly useful when you have more series than you can cleanly display in a bar chart.

Before: Building Expansion by Country (Stacked Bar Chart with Data Column)

Skyscraper Stacked Bar Chart

After: Building Expansion by Country (Build Up Cascade with Legend & Data Row)
Skyscraper Build Up Cascade/Waterfall Chart

Best Practices for Cascade Charts

  1. Add a Y axis break to a change cascade chart. The change bars are typically smaller than the total bars so without an axis break they are harder to see on the chart.
  2. Use bar comparison lines to highlight the change between two bars on the cascade chart. For example, you can add a bar comparison line to show the absolute and percentage change between the beginning and ending values.
  3. Include data rows with supplementary data or text that contributes to the overall message for the chart.
  4. Strategically use color on your cascade chart. For example, color change bars green for positive values and red for negative values. You can do this manually or using conditional formatting. Or, use a highlight color to draw attention to the primary drivers of change.
  5. Use a horizontal cascade chart when you have many bars or have lengthy bar labels.

To learn more, visit All About Cascades to see resources including videos and more chart examples. Or, check out this presentation: