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Motivation: In theory, the most efficient way to work is one item at a time. This minimizes the costs associated with maintaining inventory (stock on hand) and also brings value to market more quickly, thereby allowing a return on investment to be leveraged sooner.
Structure: A development team accepts and actions only one backlog item at a time. The Work In Progress is limited to one.
Applicability: Single Piece Flow should be considered in situations where the value stream needs to be optimized as far as possible. Note that for Single Piece Flow to be viable, it must be possible for multiple developers to work on one item simultaneously and without causing each other impediment.
Consequences: Single Piece Flow, when applied in the right situation, can result in a faster time to market, an earlier return on investment, reduced inventory costs, and rapid feedback cycles. However, it can also lead to waste if developers are allowed to get in each others way.
Implementation: Single piece flow can be implemented for Lean Kanban teams of small size, where developers will not cause each other impediment by working on the same item. It is rarely implemented in Scrum development teams, since they are expected to formulate their own plan for the delivery of a Sprint Backlog, the release of value being deferred until the end of a Sprint and not before.