We consider open and closed multiclass queueing networks with Poisson arrivals (in open networks), exponentially distributed class dependent service times, and with class dependent deterministic or probabilistic routing. For open networks, the performance objective is to minimize, over all sequencing and routing policies, a weighted sum of the expected response times of different classes. Using a powerful technique involving quadratic or higher order potential functions, we propose variants of a method to derive polyhedral and nonlinear spaces which contain the entire set of achievable response times under stable and preemptive scheduling policies. By optimizing over these spaces, we obtain lower bounds on achievable performance. In particular, we obtain a sequence of progressively more complicated nonlinear approximations (relaxations) which are progressively closer to the exact achievable space. In the special case of single station networks (multiclass queues and Klimov's model) and homogenous multiclass networks, our characterization gives exactly the achievable region. Consequently, the proposed method can be viewed as the natural extension of conservation laws to multiclass queueing networks. For closed networks, the performance objective is to maximize throughput. We similarly find polyhedral and nonlinear spaces that include the performance space and by maximizing over these spaces we obtain an upper bound on the optimal throughput. We check the tightness of our bounds by simulating heuristic scheduling policies for simple open networks and we find that the first order approximation of our method is at least as good as simulation-based existing methods. In terms of computational complexity and in contrast to simulation-based existing methods, the calculation of our first order bounds consists of solving a linear programming problem with both the number of variables and constraints being polynomial (quadratic) in the number of classes in the network. The i-th order approximation involves solving a convex programming problem in dimension O(Ri+l), where R is the number of classes in the network, which can be solved efficiently using techniques from semi-definite programming.