Creating A Bullet Chart In Power BI

In this article, we will look at how to plot a bullet chart in Microsoft Power BI.

A Power BI bullet chart is a more advanced type of bar chart and great for plotting data comparisons.

Each bar is shown against multiple qualitative ranges and a target, making it really easy to monitor progress.

For example, you could use the chart to show how exam results are graded.

The chart would show someone’s exam performance and the performance required to earn an “A”, a “B”, a “C” and so on.

Each qualitative range is assigned a different colour band known as the qualitative band.

A bar plot has two mandatory parts:

1) Category name, and

2) Numeric score for that category, which is referred to as the actual value.

In addition, you can specify target values and multiple qualitative ranges so that they appear with a description, for example, satisfactory, good, very good, etc.

We look at all of this step-by-step below.

To learn more about Power BI, custom visuals are covered in our Microsoft Power BI training.


Accessing The Bullet Chart Visual

The bullet chart visualisation is not available as a default visualisation in Power BI, it is a custom visual.

You have to import it from the Power BI marketplace for visuals.  

To do so, click the three dots (…) just below the Visualizations pane in the reports view and click the “Get more visuals” option.


Access the Power BI marketplace.


Search using the keyword “bullet” in the search bar at the Power BI visuals marketplace and select the “Bullet Chart” from Microsoft Corporation in the results.


Choosing the Bullet Chart option in the Power BI marketplace


Click “Get It Now” button to download it to your Power BI desktop.


Downloading the bullet chart visual from the Power BI marketplace.


Your visual will now appear in your Visualizations pane.


The bullet chart icon appearing in the visualizations pane


Importing Our Example Data

You will be using the Microsoft Excel table shown below as our example dataset.


Our basic data for this example


The dataset contains fictional values for total, actual, excellent, good, satisfactory, and fail scores for various courses taught during a school term.

To import the dataset, click the “Get data” or “Excel workbook” button.

Navigate to your Excel file and select it.


Importing data into Power BI from an Excel file.


Finally, click the “Load” button when a screen showing your data appears.


Our data waiting to be imported into a Power BI report


Creating A Simple Bullet Chart Step-By-Step

First, let’s create a basic bullet chart that displays the score name, the actual value for the score, and the maximum value for score from our dataset.

Drag the “Course”  column from the dataset to the “Category” field and the “Actual” column to the “Value” field. Similarly, to set the maximum value for our bullet chart, Drag the “Total”  column from the dataset to the “Maximum” field.


Setting up our bullet chart


You will see the chart below.

By default, the thick black line corresponds to the actual value.

You can see the actual score values for different courses in your dataset as a proportion of maximum (total values).


A simple bullet chart without qualitative bands


Annotating A Bullet Chart

Let’s now further annotate the bullet chart by adding the target values and qualitative bands.

We assume that the target scores for courses in our dataset are the average scores from the previous years which are presented in the “Prev.Avg” column of our dataset.

To set the target, drag the “Prev.Avg” column from the dataset and drop it to the “Target Value” field.


Adding target values to our visual.


You will now see small vertical bars in your bullet chart. These are the target values.

Since bold horizontal bars represent the actual values, you can see that the actual value for the Mathematics and English courses (the top two black bars) have exceeded the corresponding target values  (the previous year’s results).

By contrast, the actual values for science and geography (the third and bottom bars) are a long way from the target values.


The bullet chart showing last years values

You can further add qualitative bands to your bullet chart to see quality categories for all the scores in our dataset.

By default, the Power BI bullet chart by Microsoft supports the following qualitative bands:

  1. Minimum
  2. Needs Improvement
  3. Poor
  4. Satisfactory
  5. Good
  6. Very Good
  7. Excellent
  8. Maximum

You simply add these columns from your dataset to the appropriate field to edit your visual.



Now, your bullet chart should look like this.  


The dark red or maroon band on the left is the “minimum” band. The red colour is the “Needs Improvement” band,  the yellow band is the “Satisfactory” band, the light green is the “Good” band, and the dark green is the “Very Good” band.

This colour coding makes it very easy to see that for the Mathematics course, the actual score falls in the “Very Good” band (dark green), while the score for the English course falls in the “Good” band.

It is important to mention that the column names from your dataset can be different from the band names in the bullet chart.

For example, you added the column “Excellent” from your dataset to the “Very Good” field in the chart above.


Changing Colours On Your chart

You can change the colours of the bands in your bullet chart.

Click “Format” >  “Colors” as shown below. The paint roller shows the format option.

In our bullet chart, the colours for the “Good” and “Very Good” bands are not very distinct, so we’ll change the “Good” band to a lighter green.


Adjusting the colours of the qualitative bands in our chart.


The difference between the “Good” and “Very Good” bands now appears more distinctive.



Changing Chart Orientation

By default, a bullet chart is horizontal, but it can be horizontal or vertical.

You can change the orientation of a Power BI bullet chart by clicking “Format” > “Orientation”.

Below, we set the orientation of the bar plot to “Vertical Top”.


Adjusting the orientation settings of a bullet chart


Now you have a vertical bullet chart with category name labels displayed at the top.


A vertical top bullet chart


If you set the orientation to “Vertical Bottom”, the category names will appear along the bottom axis, as displayed in the chart below:


A vertical bullet chart with bottom data labels


Final Thoughts

Power BI bullet chart is a powerful tool for analysis and comparison of data distributed between qualitative bands.

A quick look at the bullet chart reveals how far the actual value is from the target value and which category the actual value falls. This makes them ideal for data dashboards.

Though bullet charts are simple to plot, you should take care when using them for detailed comparisons. They do not reveal if the difference between the actual and target values is statistically significant.


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