Making a Tableau Bullet Graph: An Advanced Tutorial

A Tableau bullet graph takes the bar in bar chart a step further. It is an advanced type of bar chart that allows analysts to compare two measures in a single bar.

How does a Tableau bullet graph work?

Given that you can compare two measures in a single bar, you can find the primary measure in the main dar bar in front. On the other hand, the secondary measure can be found in the form of a reference line beneath the main bar. Furthermore, you can even divide the reference lines into smaller segments.

The abilities Tableau bullet graphs

They are an excellent way to show progress towards a target as well as thresholds or ranges of progress or acceptability or tolerance.  For example, if you wanted to see progress towards a goal and show anything below 60% of the way there in red, anything below 80% in yellow, and anything above in green with the target line at 90%, a Tableau bullet graph can do that.  To create, there are a few possible ways. 

In this tutorial, we are going to learn about bullet chart in Tableau. The bullet charts are an advance type visualizations which provide detailed information on the dataset. Here, we are going to learn the basics of a bullet chart and see how to create them in Tableau.

What is Bullet Chart?

Thus, we can say that bullet charts are one of the most informative charts occupying less space and accommodating more detail and data. Let us suppose that we want to compare two measures, actual sales and expected sales. So here, our primary measure meaning the dark line will be actual sales and the reference line will be expected sales.

Using a bullet chart, we can easily have these two measures on a single bar of bullet chart. Then we can see whether or not our actual sales are lagging, equaling or exceeding the expected sales value using the visualization.

Similarly, we can use a bullet chart as a gauge or measure visualization where we can compare measures with respect to each other and therefore analyze the progress of a measure.

Bullet graphs are a variation of the bar chart invented by Stephen Few. Bullet graphs are one of my go-to chart types and are often featured prominently throughout my dashboards because I find that when I use them, I hear the question, “So what?”, less often. As powerful as bar charts are at communicating data, when viewed in a vacuum – or without additional context – their comparisons are limited to only the fields that are displayed in the chart. Bullet graphs improve on the bar chart by providing additional points of comparison. For example, in addition to showing a bar for widget sales, a bullet graph would also include a point of comparison that shows either last year’s sales or a target sales amount. Further, bullet graphs will include shading to illustrate how close your sales number is to last year’s number or your target.

This is the first in a five-part series on dashboard gauges in Tableau. For future updates, subscribe to our mailing list.

Speedometer-like dashboard gauges that show an arrow moving across a semi-circle consume an unnecessarily large amount of valuable real estate and are not ideal for communicating or interpreting magnitude. This series aims to provide five alternative dashboard gauges to help illustrate comparisons to prior periods or goals. I feel legally obligated to start the series off with Stephen Few’s, bullet graphs, as he really helped pioneer the idea of making gauges more streamlined and effective.

Bullet graphs build onto bar charts and provide context in the form of lines and shading that represent a comparison point. They work well because they make an efficient use of space, leverage the preattentive attribute of length, and can illustrate comparisons beyond 100% (i.e. 20% above goal). This post and video will show you two different ways to make bullet graphs in Tableau.

How to Make a Bullet Graph in Tableau

The easiest is to use Show Me.  Select 1 or more Dimensions and at least 2 Measures, and click the Tableau Bullet graph option.  Rearrange your measures and dimensions to get the desired view.  You can also: 

  1. Follow the steps above to create a bar in bar chart. 
  1. Right click on the axis or use the Analytics pane to create a reference line. 
  1. Set the line to be Per Cell. 
  1. Set the line to be one of the metrics on your viz.  If you don’t want a particular metric on the view but want to use it as a reference line, put it on the Details shelf. Or create a custom parameter, allowing you or the end user to set the values. 

This is an example of what these can look like.  The color is a calculated field using if/then logic to create the groups and is then dropped on the Color shelf. 

Tableau Bullet Graphs
Tableau Bullet Graph

There you have it. This is how you can make a tableau bullet graph. If you want to take your Tableau chart skills to the next level, be sure to check out the courses we offer in Advanced Tableau.