How To Create Excel Progress Bar Charts (Professional-Looking!)

By Chris Newman •  Updated: 11/21/19 •  7 min read
How To Build an Excel Progress Bar

Creating A Progress Bar In Excel

Progress Bars are simple graphics that can be quite visually powerful by instantly providing detail to your audience on how close your team might be to completing a goal or task. Currently, there is no “Progress Bar” chart type in Excel, so we as users have to use a little creativity to build one.

By the end of this tutorial, you will be able to not only build a chart that tracks progress, but it will look amazing as well! So let’s get into it!!

How To Build an Excel Progress Bar Chart

Get This Tutorial’s Example File:

If you would like to see the finished solution inside a live Excel spreadsheet, I have added an example file with various progress bar examples below for you to work through. Just click the download button to instantly get the spreadsheet file.

The Spreadsheet Setup

The spreadsheet cell setup is fairly simple since you only need two figures: your progress complete % and your progress remaining %. Chances are the progress complete % is going to be calculated in a unique way, so I’ll let you figure out how to get it calculated. The remaining % calculation can just be a simple formula of 1 - Progress %. No matter what, you two percentages need to equate to 100%.

Creating a Microsoft Excel Progress Chart - Setup

Inserting Your Progress Bar Chart

To insert the proper chart type, first select your two percentage cells (in the example cells C2 and C3). Next, go to the Insert Tab and click the Change Settings button in the corner of the Charts group.

Insert Chart in Excel

The Insert Chart dialog box will open and you will need to navigate to the All Charts tab. Select the following Stacked Bar configuration and click OK.

Insert Chart Dialog Box

After you have clicked OK in the Insert Chart dialog box you should see a chart inserted into your spreadsheet that looks similar to the following.

Creating a Microsoft Excel Progress Chart

Formatting Your Chart

Now that you have the structure of your progress bar chart complete, well will need to dress it up a bit to make it look more professional and intuitive.

01. Change The Fill Format

First, let’s select each section of the bar chart and change the fill color. I recommend using a dark color for the progress section and a lighter color for the remaining section.

If you would like a tool that can easily create a lighter color based on another color, check out the lighten button in the myBrand Excel Add-in. I’ve also published VBA code that you can use to lighten/darken fill colors in Excel.

Building a Microsoft Excel Progress Chart - Format

02. Add A Border Color

Next, let’s add a border (Excel refers to this as a Shape Outline). The border color should be the exact same color as your progress section color.

Excel Shape Outline (Border)

You’ll need to add this border to both sections of your bar chart. You can play with the thickness of your applied borders by modifying the Weight property.

Building a Microsoft Excel Progress Chart - Format

03. Add A Data Label

Next, you will need to add a chart Data Label to indicate the current progress. This will be a little tricky so make sure you pay attention to the following steps.

  1. Select the Remaining section bar only and right-click. You should see an option towards the end to Add Data Labels.
  2. After you’ve inserted your data label, right-click on the label and select Format Data Labels (towards the bottom of the menu).
  3. You should see the Format Data Labels pane appear on the right-hand side of your screen. Change the Label Position property to equal Inside Base.
  4. Continue to format the color and size of your data label to match your style. I recommend using a dark grey color and bolding the label font.
Building a Microsoft Excel Progress Chart - Data Label

Linking The Data Label

You might have noticed the data label is displaying your remaining percentage and not your progress %. To change this, click on your data label until the label is surrounded by white circles. Next, click into the formula bar and navigate to the cell containing your progress percentage. Select that cell and hit your Enter key on the keyboard. You should see your percentage change to match your progress value.

Excel Link Data Label To Cell Value

04. Constrain The X-Axis Bounds

Next, we’ll tweak the x-axis bounds so that we are only displaying points between 0% and 100%. This can be done by right-clicking on the x-axis and navigating to the Format Axis pane. Turn the Minimum/Maximum bound values static by changing the status from “Auto” to 0.0 and 1.0 respectively. You can do this by simply typing the numbers into the value field.

NOTE: Even though the value of the minimum bound already says 0, once you get past 83%, Excel will move the minimum value to 75%. This is why we need to ensure the minimum bound value remains zero by hardcoding it.

Building a Microsoft Excel Progress Chart - Format

05. Clean Up The Chart Area

Finally, we’ll do some final touch-ups to make our progress bar less “chart-y” in appearance. I recommend you remove all the chart elements besides the data label.

Building a Microsoft Excel Progress Chart - Format

Your Progress Bar Is Complete!

That’s it! You have built a modern, professional-looking progress bar that you can place into a dashboard or on a PowerPoint slide.

Building a Microsoft Excel Progress Chart

Add Even More Creativity!

Now that you have the structure of your Progress Bar built, you can play with the format to make it match your design style. Here are a few things you can do to further enhance your Progress Bar Chart.

Tweak the Border Color

An easy way to change the look of your progress bar outside of changing the colors is to modify the border color. Below are two examples of how either using a bold/dark color or matching the background color can make the progress bar look a little different. You can also play with the board weight (thickness) to achieve your end result.

Building a Microsoft Excel Progress Chart - Format Border

Add 100% Complete State Logic

One thing I didn’t appreciate with my initial build of the Progress Bar chart was the appearance of the graphic when one achieved 100% completion. As you can see below, the data label looks a little bit awkward.

Building a Microsoft Excel Progress Chart - 100% State

In order to fix this, I added two dedicated cells to feed the data label values (cells N2 and N3 below). I used the following formulas to change the values based on if the Progress value (cell L2) reached 100%.

  • Cell N2 Formula: =IF(L2<>100%,L2,"")
  • Cell N3 Formula: =IF(L2=100%,"100% Complete!","")

So what I did was select the dark red Progress Section and added a data label to it as well. I re-linked both data labels to point to Cell N2 and Cell N3 respectively. I also formatted the Progress Section’s data label to have white font.

Building a Microsoft Excel Progress Chart - 100% State

With the applied formula logic, only one data label with have a value and the other will look invisible because it will have an empty value (the double quotes). The end result gives a much better 100% end-state in my opinion.

Excel example of progress bar chart

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Chris Newman

Chris Newman

Chris is a finance professional and Excel MVP recognized by Microsoft since 2016. With his expertise, he founded TheSpreadsheetGuru blog to help fellow Excel users, where he shares his vast creative solutions & expertise. In addition, he has developed over 7 widely-used Excel Add-ins that have been embraced by individuals and companies worldwide.